Cheap international tour packages advertised in newspapers were the bait.

Those who fell for them are now short of a few thousands, and in some cases, lakhs.

More than 150 persons from across the State were cheated of nearly Rs. 50 lakh by a fake travel agency that promised cheap holidays in destinations abroad.

The Central Crime Branch has launched a probe into the fraud.

According to one of the victims, T.K. Dinesh, an AC mechanic from Washermenpet, he paid over Rs. 1 lakh to the travel firm — Star Events — after he came across their advertisement in a newspaper in October 2012.

“They were offering a Thailand tour package for just Rs. 21,500 per person, including return airfare and three-star accommodations. I contacted them by phone and then visited their office on Anna Salai. I made a booking for six persons including myself,” he said.

Later, Dinesh received a call from the firm and was informed that the onward journey to Thailand would begin on January 17, 2013.

“But they kept changing the dates and, on January 18, when I went to their office, it was locked. The mobile phones of the employees who kept in touch with me were switched off,” said Dinesh.

On Monday morning, Dinesh and his friends went to the office of the commissioner of police to lodge a complaint. It was there they met nearly 50 others who had been duped by the same firm.

On Tuesday, another 50 persons approached the commissionerate with the same complaint. Many more are yet to file complaints, the police said.

The firm offered tour packages to destinations in Asia, Europe, the Gulf and also, affordable tickets to individual travellers to the US and Canada.

“Apart from cash, the passports of a few complainants too are in the possession of the firm. In some cases, the employees of the firm went to the homes of customers and collected lakhs, as part of their ‘doorstep collection’ scheme,” said an investigating officer.

A few city-based travel agencies too fell for their bait and bought the cheap tour packages in a bid to sell it at a higher price to their customers.

A case has been registered and a police team is on the lookout for the owner and three employees of the firm.

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