Conversation With Lauren Wolfe Of Travelers United
I am your host Ric Gazarian. This is another special episode from counting countries. Expect to hear a traditional deep dive episode next week.
But this episode is timely. It coincides with the publication of a Washington post article on April 15 in regard to Cassie De Pecol. She is well known in the extreme travel community for claiming to be the first woman to travel to every country in the world.
Unfortunately, that claim is untrue, and now Cassie De Pecol is being sued by Travelers United, an advocacy group that works on behalf of consumers. The 100 plus page document lays out in great detail the numerous times De Pecol makes these false claims amongst many other questionable actions.
I speak with Lauren Wolfe, an attorney at Travelers United, who is an avid traveler herself. We overview the legal complaint made against De Pecol in detail.
I was in Bangkok for the recording, Doha airport to edit, and Lauren joined me from Washington DC. Please listen in and enjoy.
Audrey Walsworth Counting Country Interview
The Cassie De Pecol Lawsuit
Hey, now, I’m your host, Rick Gazarian. This is another special episode from Counting Countries. Expect to hear a traditional deep dive episode next week, but this episode is timely. It coincides with the publication of a Washington Post article on April 15 in regard to Cassie Der peckle. She’s well known in the extreme travel community for claiming to be the first woman to travel to every country in the world. Unfortunately, that claim is not true, and now Cassie Derpako is being sued by Travelers United, an advocacy group that works on behalf of consumers in the travel industry. The 100 plus page document lays out in great detail the numerous times Der peckle makes these false claims, amongst many other questionable actions. I speak with Lauren Wolf, an attorney at Travelers United who’s an avid traveler herself. We overview the legal complaint made against their peculiar detail. I was in Bangkok for the recording editing at the Doha Airport and Lauren joined me from Washington, DC. Please listen in and enjoy. 2s Hello, Lauren Wolf, welcome to Accounting countries, and I’m hoping you can take a moment and introduce yourself. Hi, I’m Lauren Wolfe. I’m Council at Travelers United. Travelers United is a travel consumer advocate group based in Washington, DC. 2s In addition to Loving to travel and consumer advocacy. I am a huge fan of Viking and I’ve recently gotten into running. I will do my third marathon this year. And I, of course, because I love travel hope to eventually run a marathon on every continent. Sounds like you’re a triple or even quadruple threat. Yeah. So I’m excited to talk to you today, and we’re going to get to this in a moment. But Travelers United and Yourself filed a complaint against extreme traveler and influencer Cassie Der peckle, which I found fascinating and interesting. And she’s been a name very well known in the extreme travel community for at least five years or even more. I can’t recall how long we’ve been debating her veracity and her claims. So we’ll get to that in a moment. But of course, when I get to meet somebody who’s an average traveler, I’ve been to over 100 countries. I want to learn a little bit about that passion, not so much the running, which is awesome. Tell me, what’s your background in terms of travel that inspired you, or what was this catalyst to make you an outlier? I’m sure not that many of your friends in DC have been to overt countries. Why you. 2s That’s a great question. I have no idea. I was bit by the travel bug as I’m sure many people, most people probably listening to this podcast or have been. But I grew up in Michigan, just outside of Detroit. My parents, our ends ran a Hallmark store and so as part of that we got to travel to Hallmark meetings in Las Vegas and Kansas City. And I was always so excited to go to those just to see other parts of America. And I really think there’s maybe something in the blood because my mom grew up poor and said that on her 11th birthday her parents asked her what she could get and she said I want to ride on a plane. And they sent her to visit her cousins who live outside of Pittsburgh and she said it was the most exciting thing ever and I’m very lucky that my parents took me to Europe when I was a kid and I thought that was fascinating. I have some relatives and family friends over in Germany so I’ve stayed for months at a time with them when I was growing up and I think being in Europe really showed me how awesome other cultures and learning about other countries and languages was. And then I studied German a lot in College and 1s just kept wanting to travel. The more you see, the more you want to go to more places. And I took a year off and traveled around the world 1s for one year and that’s really 1s that I wanted to just see more. After that year, the list never gets shorter. You’ve seen over half the world 102 countries. We know this is an impossible question to answer, but sharers with me one of your favorites, one of your favorite countries or places or cities. 2s Yeah, 1s I was lucky enough to go to Syria right before all of the troubles started. 2s And I mean, right before 2s my friend is and I had such a good time there and we’re treated so well with such incredible hospitality. There were almost no other tourists in the country. And what you see in the media is obviously not great. It looks incredibly dangerous and life threatening. And to this day, when I tell people I had a great time in Syria, they think I’m nutty. But my friend and I felt we’re totally safe. We took public transportation throughout the entire country. We went all over Syria for two weeks. We were dancing in Damascus at a fun bar, like very Liberal attitudes towards everything, particularly in Damascus, fun coffee shops that would be similar to like, Starbucks, and that’s not really ever shown in the media. And people think it’s incredibly dangerous. But the hospitality and fun that I had and delicious food that I had in Syria is something that I’ll always remember and just kind of the contrast of what you see in the news versus what a country is actually like. Yeah, I agreed a very similar experience for myself. I thankfully and luckily went before the Arab Spring. I remember crossing the border from Jordan to Syria. I was a Ted apprehensive because I wasn’t quite as well traveled back then and the narrative was a dangerous terrorist state. And to me it was a fantastic visit. And both of us are quite fortunate because obviously it’s so difficult for people in our community, especially with American passports, to get those sharing visas. 1s Kudos to us for our good luck in timing. 2s Warren, you shared with me. 1s No set goal, but your hope at some point is to visit every single country in the world and obviously very, very well traveled at 100 plus. But there’s a difference between visiting 50 or 100 countries to stating to yourself or your friends or your family that at some point you’re going to travel to them all. Was there a light bulb moment? Was there a catalyst? Is there a mentor or a role model that kind of has pushed you down this path of traveling and chasing 193. I’ve just always been interested in travel, other languages, other countries, et cetera. And 1s I just remember I went to Smith College and sitting in the dorms at Smith College and looking up women who have traveled and women who have traveled to every country. And I believe I was probably reading about Audrey and Dorothy at the time and was like, wow, these women are awesome 2s and think that 1s maybe if I’m lucky enough in my whole life, I would like to also go to every country and see every place. And I know that geography and politics are always changing. There’s always new countries, countries that are no more, et cetera. So I think by the end of my life, I would like to see it all awesome. Thankfully, travel does seem to be opening up. Hopefully, we’ll continue down this path of openness any travel plans that you have on the books that you’re looking forward to in 2022. Yes, of course. 3s Aside from traveling around the United States, which is probably not that interesting to people in this podcast. But aside from traveling around the United States, hopefully going to Scandinavia, Italy, 2s that’s all I’ve got planned for right now. Well, that sounds good. So I’m going to make kind of a drastic pivot, and I’m going to read this quote to you. So we’re going to jump right in, go right for the juggler. And this is a quote. I don’t know if it’s some sort of press release that Cassie Der peckle has sent out. This complaint referring to the legal complaint from Travelers United is yet another baseless attack on me and my accomplishments. She added that she intends to vigorously contest what Regrettably appears to be a rehash of the same untenable allegations that have been leveled against me in the past. So we’re going to jump right in if you can respond to that. 3s Yeah. 1s You know, I researched this complaint and have been working on it for over a year. 1s I’ve talked with many people and read an incredible amount of articles, talked with Virgin Galactic and 2s with Guinness World Records. I’ve reached out to so many people before filing this. I also just want to stress that Travelers United is a teeny nonprofit and we do not want to be filing lawsuits unless we feel that it is absolutely necessary. We have limited resources. We think, frankly, that the FTC should be doing this, but we hope that this lawsuit pressures them to actually start to take action against influencers who are not telling the truth in advertising. 2s In terms of Cassie, I don’t want to sit here and say that 1s everything she says is not true, because that is simply not true. And I also do think that she had an incredible accomplishment of going to every country the fastest, and that if she had stuck to that which other people like Taylor, who did that about a year after her did, there wouldn’t be absolutely no problem here. The problem is that she says that she is the auto first woman to travel to every country when that is not true, and then she uses that claim to sell products. 4s There wouldn’t be an issue if she wasn’t really selling products. 2s And in addition to her comment or claim to be the first woman to travel to every country, she also also claims that she’s going to be the first sponsored astronaut to travel to space with Virgin Galactic. 1s That seemed to be news to Virgin Galactic when I reached out to them. 1s So there’s just a real issue here of saying whatever one can say in order to get more followers, in order to get bigger brand deals, in order to sell products to those followers. 2s Let’s touch on that in a bit. So let’s take one quick step back. Travelers United is a consumer advocacy nonprofit group. What does that mean, exactly? What is your mission statement? And obviously, I know you’re not just suing well known social media influencers, you’re doing a lot of other work within this space to protect consumers within the travel industry. So which Travels United at all about? Yeah, we’re a consumer protection group that focuses on travel. So we have one other big lawsuit that’s going on, and we’ve sued MGM Resorts International over not disclosing hotel resort fees and their use of comps when they’re still charging resort fees on a room that’s comp. I would say that not comp, but that’s the case at hand. 3s I want to thank you because it’s been a while, but I was in Vegas several years and I was extremely irritated with all these additional fees tapped on to all the different hotels on the stress. So in short, we can say that you guys are a consumer. You’re looking up for the consumer in regards to issues in regard to travel and trying to help them out where you guys see wrongs within this industry. So back to Cassie. And what this all comes down to at some level is Cassie’s claim. So Cassie claimed initially that she was the first woman in the world to travel to every country. And within this complaint, you’re saying that’s incorrect. That’s false. Touch on that for a moment if you can. Yeah. And again, we wouldn’t have to file this complaint if. 2s Cassie’s main source of income was not posting on social media and then getting these brand deals and selling products to her followers with this false claim. So if somebody’s making a claim in the travel world and it’s impacting consumers and what they’re purchasing, that’s definitely an issue to Travelers United because we’re a travel consumer advocacy group. It actually I’m probably one of the younger people in the travel or just generally the consumer advocacy space, particularly in Washington, DC, which is not great. So if you’re younger than me, which you highly might be, I suggest you get into consumer advocacy. But it took a bit of work to convince people that this is a consumer advocacy issue. And it is I really adamantly believe that so many people, probably mostly under the age of 40, are using Instagram or using TikTok to look at what hotels are amazing, what countries are amazing, what Airlines should I fly? And if they don’t know something, an ad or not, if they don’t know the person Hawking the product, didn’t actually use the product or isn’t who they say they are, it makes it impossible for a consumer to come up with an actual determination if they want that product or not. So that’s really why we brought this model. It seems as simple as a false claim tied together with false advertising. 2s I mentioned this before. Your complaint. It’s over 100 pages. I can’t say I’ve read every page, but I did go through it twice. It’s incredibly detailed. So back to Cassie’s claim of being the first woman to travel to every country in the world. What was your research? What did you find out. 2s Yeah. I mean, I chatted with a lot of people with Guinness World Records, with others, with many, many people in the travel community, people who do count and verify different groups that verify people’s travels, et cetera. And kind of everybody seemed to agree that, including Guinness World Records. That 2s great respect for Cathy to going to every country the quickest in 2017. But she’s unquestionably not the first woman to go to every country. And one of the things that I found that was very concerning was that Cassie herself had sent out press releases saying that she was the first woman to travel to every country. 1s I also found numerous people who said that they had contacted her before she’s even began her trip, who told her she wouldn’t be the first woman to ever country. And she ignored them or blocked them on social media. 2s In addition to that, I’m extremely. 2s Annoyed, concerned, and just kind of disgusted because I went to Smith College. It’s an all women’s College that’s known for a lot of women’s history and important political figures from Julia Child to Gloria Steinem. And one thing that I certainly learned at Smith College is to acknowledge the women who have done the work before you to pave the way for all of the opportunities that we have today. And the fact that she did not acknowledge and attempted to erase the accomplishments of the women before her 2s really to me is extremely concerning and a serious problem. I really thought personally this needed to stop. 2s And obviously, Travelers United has been brought into this to to file this complaint. And it just seemed the more that I looked into it, I really could not find absolutely anybody who thought that Cassie was in any way, shape or form the first person to go to every country. Okay. And just to give a reference to my listeners on counting countries, two people that you mentioned in your complaint are two people, two women that have interviewed on counting countries. Both Audrey Walls Worth from the US and Nina Siddano from Germany are both two women who’ve traveled to every country and much earlier than Cassie did. Now, you just mentioned something. So I’m guessing when you’re filing a complaint and there’s a lawsuit, you have to, in essence, prove that the defendant was aware that they were acting fraudulently. I’m not sure if that’s the right legalese. And you mentioned and you have proof. Again, I’m going to link to this document because it’s so deep and so it covers so many different issues. But you share people reaching out to Cassie on social media or email or in conversations where she shuts them down, touch on basically her giving the face palm to these people who are trying to correct Cassie before she proceeds further down that path. Yeah, I talked with a lot of people and there’s a lot of also just information that anybody could access online that Cassie originally said this claim in 2015 that she was going to be the first woman to travel to every country. People saw her investor deck and pitch deck from them, which also was in the complaint. And she says she’s trying to get sponsors and people to pay for her trip. And she says there that she will be the first woman to travel to every country. 1s Numerous people said that they reached out to her. This is on a lot of info is already online. And people that I also, in addition to chatted with said that they reached out to her in 20, 15, 20, 16 when she was traveling and that she would just ignore or block anybody that said that she wouldn’t be the first woman to go to every country. So she seemed to really just try to shut out and scream the loudest that she was and hope that that would bring her success and more. Instagram followers, 3s this part of your complaint caught my attention. You have some screen prints of Tweets from 2017, and Cassie is addressing some travelers. 2s Travel bloggers, some extreme travelers who questioned her claim. And there’s a thread of Cassie responding to these people 2017, where Cassie calls them the people who questioned her, meaningless ants for which they are. So it seems like 1s she was quite strident in her opinions and interactions with people who are questioning her. Yeah. And I think it’s really concerning, and particularly because I’m a woman, I went to an all women’s College. 2s I know that she used the argument, well, I’m a woman and you’re doubting women’s accomplishments. But the fact that she is and I know that in the extreme travel community, it’s overwhelmingly male. And I think she used that back to her basically benefit because I think a lot of men didn’t want to kind of jump in on the discussion of are you the first or not? Or just even get involved? But to me, as a woman who values women’s history and the woman who went before me, I think it’s incredibly offensive that she wouldn’t even say this and not acknowledge the women who went before her, which it’s easy to find online. Like I said, I’m pretty sure I was reading about this when I was in College in 2005. So. 2s I was really concerned. I really found out first about this story personally when I was watching the Today show on NBC and saw Jenna Bush Hager interviewing her, and I thought, wow, they’re going to need to retract this this because this is obviously not true. I have lived in Germany for about three years of my life, probably total. And I knew about Nina 1s from Germany. And I was like, wow, how did NBC get caught up in this? But then I was really surprised to see the social media reaction after and that she just was relentless in saying, no, it was her. And it was like she was just blocking everybody and thought if she could basically stay at the loudest with the best photos, it would be true. And this complaint obviously seeks to show that women did this long before her. Yeah. And I think that was a lot of frustration within the travel community is 1s whether it’s a 4s you have to give credit to the people who came before you and paved the way instead of saying you broke the glass ceiling without any realization or appreciation for the people before who really were the catalyst or assisted you in your journey. I also want to take one quick step back. And if I understand kind of the rationale of the complaint, Cassie makes a false claim. I’m the first woman to travel to every country in the world with the false claim. She gets the Media’s attention. With the Media’s attention, she gets free earned media. And that free media gains her tremendous success on social media. And then the final, I think, part of this, with the great success in social media, she’s able to create relationships with brands and services and in essence, sell or market them on her social media to her followers. But I don’t know, again, if I’m using the right legal, but she’s doing this in a fraudulent sense. 2s Because she’s presenting herself not accurately. I don’t know if that kind of sums it up. That is a good summary. Basically, she sent out press releases saying she would be the first woman to every country. She went on the Today show and the crying 2s first woman to travel to every country. 2s She told the New York Times she was the first. They wrote that. It’s really impressive. And I do think maybe she doesn’t have a great future and shouldn’t be a travel influencer. But I do hope that she has a successful career in PR because she’s obviously worked and is incredibly impressive at the amount of press she was able to receive. Yes. I was going to say if you Google her name, I mean, the amount of media and YouTube and articles, 2s it’s an incredibly large amount, a large amount of press and PR that she got. But you would have to question the veracity of the foundation that was all built on. Let’s make another quick pivot. I’m going to pick Kim Kardashian. 1s And again, from the complaint, I don’t know how many followers she has. I mean, whether it’s 50 million or 100 million, but it sounds like for one post representing a brand, she can get a million dollars. That seems pretty, pretty easy work. Now you found the media kit from Cassie’s website, I believe, from 2018. So maybe her numbers were not even as big as that on social media and she was attempting or charging brands $4,500 for one post. 1s Touch a little bit on how influencers make money and what that relationship is like with these brands who are promoting through these social influencers. Yeah, that’s a great question. And one of the reasons this complaint is interesting and a few lawyers are definitely interested in this complaint is that most of the actions so far in the influencer world, of which there are still very few, have been about brands not disclosing 1s that they have ads on social media and that they’re basically taking advantage of the influencers. But what we’re doing in this case is really saying no here. The issue is, yes, there’s a problem with the brands, but the issue is the influencer herself is basically counting these brands into thinking that she’s someone that she’s not 2s with the claim of being the first woman to travel to every country, the claim that she’s going to be going to space with Virgin Galactic, which was news to Virgin Galactic. 3s That is really the issue here. Influencers. 2s To be a successful influencer, you need to have many followers who are actively engaged on your page and basically loyal to you and what you recommend. They have to think of you as authentic. The more people that you have who follow you and think that you’re authentic, like the bigger and bigger brand deals you can get. 2s It’s easily $5,000 for somebody who has about half a million followers. So she can easily get $5,000 per Instagram post, probably even more for adding Instagram stories at the top. So you know, if she posts a photo in the permanent feed and a story, she could get $8,000 2s from that. 2s So after hearing what Cassie is able to charge, 1s I think this is going to be motivation to increase my numbers on social media. But nonetheless, one of the things I want to talk about in regards to Cassie is what seems to be her ever changing claims at times. Meaning I think day one it was I’m the first woman to travel to every country in the world. And at times today I see that. But other times I also see first documented woman to travel to every country in the world. Does that distinction make a difference? Comment on what that means? No. 1s I mean. 2s Have communicated with Guinness World Records. And, you know, her documentation shows that she was the fastest woman to have done who have traveled to every country between 2017 and 2018. And after that, Taylor Devon Brune 1s beat her record. The documented really means nothing because Guinness World Records did not document her as the first woman to travel to every country at all. They documented her as the fastest woman in 2017. 1s So I think what you’re getting at is she is claiming she’s the first documented woman, but there’s no universal governing body in the extreme travel community who can bestow that on her. So in other words, I can say I’m the first documented person to do something. And documentation could be I wrote it in a notebook. It’s documented. So in other words, when she says she’s the first person documented, she is creating her own set of rules, only in essence being utilized by her to claim documentation. Am I getting that right? That’s true. Because basically what she’s saying and what she has alleged in tweets and conversations and emails, some of which are public and some of Jesus, which have been shared with me, is basically that she thinks people like Nina Sudano and Audrey Wellsworth do not have. 2s The same level of proof that she does, except that both women do have that much proof. You know, particularly Nina has showed all of her passport to the German press. They’ve been photo graph. You can easily find them online. 2s And Nina also had her travels verified by Nomad Mania. What I found interesting in doing the research for this complaint was that Nomad Mania does not consider airport turnarounds as a visit to the country, meaning if you fly into a remote Pacific Island country, turn around on the same flight and never leave the airport. Sure, that may count as a visit from Guinness World Records, but it does not count as a visit to Nomad Mania’s verification. So Cathy to peckle never even had her travels verified with Nomad Bania because many of her country’s visits would not count as a visit. But Nina Sudano did have her travels verified by them. 1s Let’s just kind of review that. So there are two organizations, and again, these 1s are both third party verifiers, but they are not necessarily universally accepted for every single traveler around the globe. But nonetheless, they provide two benchmarks. Guinness World Records, of course, extremely well known. I believe their rule is as long as you put your foot on the ground, that will count as a visit to that country. You’re referring to Nomad Mania, which is a great travel club and website, which also does third party verification through one of their members. And their rules are a little more stringent in terms of visits saying I believe you’re saying airport transfers don’t count. And we know further fact. 2s That Cassie herself is admitted in interviews that I don’t know the exact number because from my understanding, read your complaint. That number change whether seven or 15. And we also have a first part already witnessed, I believe, in Tuvalu, who saw her. What you’re referring to is you either stay for 90 minutes at that time or you had to stay for a week. And in this case, it was documented by a traveler in the extreme travel community that she got off the plane, hung around for 90 minutes, and then jumped back on 2s again. Here we go. There’s no universal governing body. So if it’s for Nomad media, she wouldn’t even have been defined as visiting every country in the world. Yeah. Another issue with Guinness World Records that I thought was interesting is that Guinness World Records is in the business of records. So they want to make it slightly easier for people to qualify 2s as a country visit because they want more people to compete for these records. So their definition of what counts as a country visit or what is a country is also different than some of the boundaries of the United States, what they consider different country borders. 1s We’re obviously not going to get into a giant discussion here about 1s the borders of Israel, but the Golan Heights, 1s according to Guinness World Records, if you visit the Golan Heights, you can count that as a visit to Syria, 1s which if anybody here has been to the Golan Heights, which I have, that’s not not 2s what the United States thinks is Syria. And I would highly recommend a trip to Syria. I think it’s great. But the same goes with North Korea right now, how people with US passports cannot 1s enter North Korea by flying on an airplane and landing in Seoul capital. Guinness World Records is allowing them to enter from South Korea, take a foot into the airport, blue houses at the DMZ and come back. And that’s what a few people who have recently done these Guinness World Records have done. I think most. 1s Travelers would find that not exactly a visit to North Korea in any way, shape or form. That’s definitely in the Gray zone. I think you’re referring to Lexi Alford, who is the youngest woman to travel to every country in the world or younger, youngest person. She holds a Guinness World Record. She holds an American passport, was not able to enter sovereign North Korea. She did fly to Seoul. She took the tour to the DMZ Pomegran village, entered in that little blue building. And we can debate this over beers and coffees and vodka shots. Was she in North Korea? Technically, not really. It’s Gray. But nonetheless, Guinness World Records does allow that. And let’s talk about Guinness World Records, because again, from reading your complaint, it sounds like some other false claims are made by Cassie in regard to this, meaning 2s she does have two Guinness World records or did have two Guinness World records, fastest woman to travel to every country in the world and fastest person to visit every country in the world. But you’ve mentioned another traveler, Taylor, who I can’t pronounce her last name, Demon Braun, who I also interviewed, who now holds the record, according to Guinness World Record. So my question to you is, I look at her social media and it says Cassie, Guinness worldwide record holder. Shouldn’t it say former. 2s Yeah. I mean, on that issue, 2s I don’t know. I mean, I think it’s up for debate, 1s but I think it is an issue that she had the title for a year and that she’s still doing things like producing these videos with Nasdalee saying that she was the fastest and first woman when Taylor would be the person who should be the subject of that video today. 1s She did set two world records at one point, according to the rules of Guinness, which, as we’ve discussed, are questionable. 1s But 1s she did hold the record for about a year. The issue is that she does still seem to hold on to that when the attention for those claims should now be on Taylor. Okay, so NASDA is an unbelievably, extremely successful video maker on YouTube. Are you saying Nasdale made a video of Cassie? And during that video, they claimed she was the fastest person to travel to every country in the world, but she had already lost that record to Taylor. Yes. They released this video about a year ago in March for Women’s History Month. And again, this is why as a woman, I find this particularly concerning, because not only is she erasing the history of the woman who went before her, she’s erasing the history of women who went after her. So Taylor should be really the subject of the video if they wanted to produce such a video and she wanted to do it. But Cassie in the video says that she’s the first and fastest woman to visit every country. And the video received, you know, hundreds of thousands of views, if not more by now, because Nas. 1s Daily is just a hugely popular maker of videos for YouTube and Facebook. And it’s really unfortunate because, you know, this guy, he went to Harvard, he got a staff of over 50, and he clearly fell for these claims, just like NBC, The New York Times, et cetera. Yeah, I want to talk about the median a bit. So I want to go over a couple of other issues that are brought up in the complaint. So we’ve been focusing on this false claim, which is really at some level driven her giant success. 1s One of the other issues I believe there’s laws regulating this, the Kim Kardashians of the world and everybody else. One of the big requirements is this FTC rule that you need to clearly state. It’s an Advertisement when you’re being paid. So address that issue. And how does Cassie get involved in regard to this? Yeah, this is an issue certainly that goes far beyond Cathy. This is an issue that unfortunately is pervasive in social media, particularly on TikTok and Instagram. 3s Influencers are often paid or at the very least are given free stays at hotels or they’re given free flights by Airlines. And they don’t disclose that either of these products were gifted to them or that they’re being paid to stay in these hotels and write these reviews. 1s The FTC has made it very clear that if you get a financial benefit, you have to make it known. So what people should be doing, if they’re influencers is just very simply writing ad. You don’t even have to hashtag it. You just have to write ad and then space line and then start comment. It’s very easy. You just have to be very clear about it. And if Marriott just gave you a free place to stay, you have to say, like 2s Marriott provided me with this day, that is not happening on any of her posts. She stayed at numerous Ritz Carlton properties, which are part of the Marriott family. Nothing is disclosed. It’s very unclear what the partnership with Marriott here is. And Marriott is a leader in hospitality in the United States. And we find it very concerning that they think that they’re above the FTC and clearly that Cassie does as well. Not one of her posts from Marriott Hotels or the Ritz Carlton have any disclosure on if it’s an ad, if she got a free stay, what’s the issue is. So the FTC is very clear. If you have a financial relationship with the brand that you’re promoting or whatever you’re promoting, you have to disclose it. 3s That’s good to know and something to keep your eye out for when you’re looking at post from Travel Influencer. So the next item I want to bring up and this one seems 2s this one kind of made me laugh is Cassie is a published author. She wrote a book. You can see it on Amazon. And what you’re claiming in the complaint is Cassie was writing fake five star reviews in a made up name which were really written by her. Explain what happened here. Yeah, 2s it seems that she was writing numerous reviews. I also talked with people in the extreme travel community who said that they had reviewed the book on Amazon, but their reviews were missing or no longer there 1s because they tried to correct her again and say that she was not actually the first woman to travel to every country, which she very prominently claims in the book. 2s And then those reviews all got erased. But there seemed to be all these random, glowing five star reviews which kind of made no sense. So I looked into it and I looked into it using the Wayback Machine and other tools to see 1s this is a random book. This is not like New York Times bestseller. And if you get a 20 paragraph review about this random book, it’s going to raise some flags and attention. And then you can see that from the 20 page or 20 paragraph review, it goes back to a page that’s connected to her. 2s This is another FTC violation. You can’t make up reviews and actually companies are starting to get fined for that. So a traveler tonight have thought that this is another interesting issue that she’s engaging in that violates the guidelines set by the FTC. That one just seems incredibly petty to write those fake reviews. So that caught my attention. 1s Yeah. Fake reviews are actually an increasing problem, and it’s a serious consumer issue. 2s The last one I want to bring up, you’ve already mentioned it a couple of times, but I just want to make sure everybody kind of grasp what you’re saying in the complaint. And this one is like full hubris to me. It’s alleged Affiliations 1s Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is one of a couple of companies which is bringing civilians into outer space. And you’ve touched on it before, but explain what Cassie’s claim is in regards to Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company. 2s She says that she has been accepted to travel to space with Virgin Galactic and that she will be the first sponsored astronaut. I reached out to Virgin Galactic and honestly, when I got in touch with their government relations team in the United States, they thought that I had gotten the wrong Department and that I was trying to reach Virgin Atlantic, like airline company. They were like, this is the space Department. And I was like, yeah, I’m aware. 4s It seemed to be news 2s to the Virgin Space Department that influencer was claiming this. I also reached out to their press team, who also declined to comment about this. And it does not seem like she has any relationship at all to Virgin Galactic and as we know, they’ve already been sponsored astronauts to space. 2s So clearly, she’s not the first one in this claim. If I have my data correct. 1s Was made by Cassie in 2017. So like five years ago. Yeah. She’s been making this claim over and over. And it’s now in her bio on her Wondery page, which again, 1s I don’t know if we’re going to talk more about the role that the media plays and not fact checking any of this information, but it’s a serious problem because I think it would be cool if we all could travel to space, and particularly women. And I think when they see people like this who are highly likely not telling the truth with their affiliations, they 1s are confused about what are the opportunities for regular people to travel to space. And they think that you have to have 500,000 Instagram followers and make a false claim in order to go to space. That really should not be true. And I don’t think it is true. 1s Lauren, I’m going to ask you to play armchair psychologist for a moment. 4s What’s the rationale, what’s the impetus for Cassie to make a claim like this, which seems to be. 3s Just false, but also kind of pretty straightforward and easy to realize that this is a false claim she started making five years ago and I guess is continually making 2s what’s her thought process, if you had a guess or hypothesized, what’s going on there? Yeah, the claim cells. So she made a video for GoDaddy that says I’m going to space. So that’s a problem for GoDaddy. It’s a problem for her. And it’s an issue for Virgin Galactic because she’s just making up an affiliation with them. 5s She has obviously become very successful and gotten half a million followers on Instagram due to her claim of saying that she’s the first woman to travel to every country. 2s So I guess she thought she could also get away with other claims, like she’s going to be the first sponsored astronaut when they clearly have already been sponsored astronauts. 1s And she thought she could just get away away with it. And then the. 2s More interesting, she seems the bigger Brando she can get, the more press and more important, most importantly, the more followers who she can then sell products to. So we have mentioned this a couple of times. So let’s loop back here and we’re going to the next category is Complicity. And I think Besides Cassie, it couldn’t have been done without two other players, in essence. So let’s talk first about the media. Is this the Media’s fault? I mean, 3s they’re not fact checking what’s going on with the media in Cassie. Yeah, I think that because travel news is often seen as soft news, not hard news. There just aren’t enough people fact checking these stories and that 2s people probably in the travel world don’t generally send out press releases for fake news. So I think this is a very unique and concerning. 2s Incident, in travel, consumer advocacy, where you have somebody who wants to become an influencer sending out false press releases so that they can get press, so that they can then become a successful influencer who they can then sell goods to people who are interested in travel. So, yeah, I think NBC clearly 2s did not do their research 2s before they put together that show piece for the Today show. And it’s really concerning because Nina Sudano is very well known in the German press. And her articles have been covered by the equivalent of The New York Times. In Germany, she’s been photographed with all the passports. And as noted in the complaint, she’s often talked about how she traveled alone 2s years before Cassie went. And this was all accessible to NBC News. And clearly, no one looked into this. 2s It just shows that with enough determination and press releases, apparently one can get these things on to The New York Times and the Today show. The New York Times piece was is corrected, though I have an issue with the correction. And the other partner, sort of with the media, which you mentioned is Cassie’s partnerships with these big brands like GoDaddy and Marriott. And I guess my question is twofold here. One, they are complicit or allowing her to make these false claims on behalf of their brand. And then you also mentioned she’s not using the notation or hashtag of Advertisement. So, I mean, I would hope these big brands who are writing sizable checks to these influencers are doing some fact checking on their own to making sure their partners are complying with the law. So address those two different issues of their culpability or responsibility for not fact checking the information, like Virgin Galactic and then the hashtagging. Yeah, well, it’s two different issues here. Virgin Galactic, I do not think, had any idea that Cassie was claiming to have any relationship with them. And they never made any ads with her because they have likely no relationship with her. So she’s just falsely claiming she does have a relationship with them because it makes her seem cooler and more appealing to France. But I believe you said she made an ad with GoDaddy. 3s So the issue then is with companies like Venus Razors or Marriott or GoDaddy who have produced advertisements with her, 2s again, as somebody who really values and is interested in women’s history and women’s accomplishments, these brands are writing her checks so that she can continue the job that she has been doing of erasing the accomplishments of women before her. And I think that these brands should be held accountable. Godaddy has no excuse. They make billions of dollars a year. They have plenty of lawyers. They should be reviewing this content. This is not a joke. Like lawyers should be looking over the content that is produced by these influencers who are making GoDaddy ads. And the same with Venus Razors and Marriott Hotels like Marriott is based in Washington, DC, right outside of Washington, DC where I live. I know they have many lawyers there 1s with their resort fee lack of resort fee disclosures. But I also have a serious issue with the fact that they think that they can just have an influencer like this, staying for free, erasing women’s history and not disclosing that they’re either being gifted a room or being paid. We don’t know because nothing’s closed properly. So these brands need to be held 2s accountable. And frankly, something that I have been interested in and 2s we’re working on here at Travelers United is if. 1s We’ve said in press releases and we’ve put online and we want to continue talking about. But if brands like Marriott and GoDaddy do not fix what they have released with this influencer so far, we will sue them as well. Yeah, I was going to ask that question. So 1s good to know. And I’ll be interested to see what happens in regard to that. What’s the point of the complaint? The lawsuit meaning is the goal. 3s This isn’t a criminal case. It’s civil, I believe is that Cassie has to write a check. Does she have to give 1s a public apology? What’s the goal of the lawsuit? Yeah, we’re a nonprofit, very small nonprofit in Washington, DC. We’re here to influence policy to make it better, travel better for American consumers. And how can we make travel better for American consumers? Well, just if people tell the truth. And so what we would love to see Cathy Do, is simply recognize that she’s not the first woman to travel to every country. 2s Just simply admit to that, correct her bio on social media, remove any affiliations that she may not have with Virgin Galactic, and correct her posts that do exist so that she discloses if she had a paid relationship or if she was gifted for 1s those stays or posts or whatever. So all we want is a policy correction. And a lot of people may think, oh, it’s so extreme that you had to sue her. And frankly, I agree. I wish we didn’t have to take this step. But I think as you and the extreme traveling community may know, she has been just relentlessly pursuing this idea that she is going to be the first sponsored astronaut and she is the first woman to travel to every country. 3s And she’s been given plenty of warning and there have been news articles and many people have spoken with her. But she continues to just try to basically yell the loudest and send out the most press releases which have gotten her, frankly, incredibly far. So what we want to do is just kind of stop this and tell the brands that they also have a responsibility to fact check. And we hope that this also brings attention to media like NBC to really pay attention even to soft news stories and fact check them. Did Travelers United reach out to Cassie before the complaint was filed? No. 4s How does that work in the legal world? Is that typical, that NGO non profit would do that, or what’s the logic of rationale, of not reaching out to her first? 3s No, she has been clearly. 2s Told by hundreds of people that she was not the first woman to travel to every country. So one more organization telling her and then having her block them on social media or stage that they don’t believe in women’s history is not going to be effective. So unfortunately, we felt that the best way to end the deception and to bring some truth in advertising here was to simply file the lawsuit because that was going to be the only way to get her to change what she had been saying and the claims 1s that she had been making to stop those. Have you heard from her representatives at this point? No. 2s I know the court can move quite slowly here in the US. How does the time frame work? 3s Can it get, quote, unquote, settled outside of court before you go to court? Or if it goes to court, how long will it take? Give us an overview of what will happen in the future. The first date is scheduled towards the end of June, the first potential court date. But like I said, we didn’t want to bring this lawsuit. We have a million other issues that we could be focusing on as a nonprofit. That is very small. As you know, there’s a million issues in travel right now, particularly in America. We’re very concerned that. 1s Families can’t sit together on airplanes that people haven’t been given the refunds they should have gotten for COVID flights that were canceled, etcetera. I would love to focus on those issues and not this and not have to go to court. So if she was willing to correct all her posts, fix her bio, issue an apology, then we wouldn’t have to go to court. And I’d be happy to settle this outside of court. We just unfortunately thought that this needed to be brought because we really didn’t think there was another way to get her to 2s Lauren. What does it look like? Meaning, I don’t know the number, but there’s hundreds or thousand posts and articles and podcasts which say she’s the first woman to travel to every country in the world. So is it as simple as changing her BIOS and sending out one tweet that simply goes, hey, 1s make this clear. I am one of the few women who’ve traveled to every country in the world, and I’ve held two Guinness World records. 1s And I’d like to apologize for any confusion I’ve caused previously in any of my other claims. And one tweet, is that good enough? How does that work? Because you have many, many more media mentions of the fake or false claim that you’re alleging in this complaint. Yeah. And she also got half a million followers based off of this claim. That’s not true. 3s I think that’s a good question. And I would love to hear from people in the traveling community. Like I said, the only reason we filed this case is because we didn’t think there was any other way. And we’re here to represent all travelers, particularly like people who travel in the United States of America. So if you have any thoughts on the topic, let us know. Let me know. Feel free to reach out to me, because this is obviously the first lawsuit of its kind ever, the first case ever brought by a nonprofit on this issue. And the only reason we’re bringing it is because the FTC should be doing this. But they are unfortunately very understaffed and are not working on this now. So I’d love to hear from you what you think. And I would also, like I said, really love to not have to go to court about this and to just have an apology. But if anybody has any thoughts on that, please let me know. Okay. So a call to anybody listening to this, feel free to send a comment on the post or social media and give them feedback or thoughts or ideas of what you think is appropriate. Should Travelers United be successful in this lawsuit? And I don’t know if. 1s You are willing or able. Do you have a strong degree of confidence that you’ll be successful in this lawsuit? Yeah. I mean, again, we don’t want to go to court, but to resolve this issue issue outside of court and just come to an agreement, have her fix her post and her bio. 1s But yes, I think that this is a very clear case of somebody violating 2s truth in advertising laws. Washington, DC, has excellent consumer protection in terms of truth in advertising, and they allow nonprofits to basically enforce the law as if they are the attorney general. So that’s what we’re doing here. And it’s very clear, as the 120 page complaint shows, all of the violations that have taken place here and there have been many. So I think that this is kind of a Slam dunk case. But like I said, I hope it truly doesn’t come to that and that we can reach some sort of agreement before that. And I also just want to stress we’re not here to we want Cassie to have a great career moving forward. I think that she has truly incredible potential in PR and that people clearly should hire her. So we hope that she has a great future in travel ahead. We just want to make sure that all these posts are correct and that we honor the achievements of women before and after Cathy. 1s I think this is my Lasty question. And 1s you just mentioned this is the first lawsuit of its kind. I don’t know if it’s hundreds of thousands, dozens or millions of influencers who are out there. And I’m sure many of them are not abiding. All of them are not abiding by the letter of the law. Why, Cassie? Is this a case of the squeaky wheel getting the grease of the thousands of influencers? You could have brought this complaint. Why, Cassie? Yeah, that’s a great question. The issue here was that Cassie seemed to have the most issues. 1s I would say almost every travel influencer and content creator might have some issues with disclosures of whether or not something was an ad or sponsored or maybe a little unclear about whether or not it was. That’s probably an issue for, frankly, almost every content creator. But here we have additional issues of. 2s False claims in the basic premise of who they are and what they accomplished, particularly in order to get that giant amount of influencers. So there’s an issue with not just the lack of disclosure, which is pervasive in social social media, but the basic bio of who the person is and then additional claims on top of that, like the first sponsored astronaut, which also seemed not to be true. So there were just a lot of issues here. In addition to the reviews, which we also think is an unfortunate and growing problem, is people posting fake reviews. And the FTC is very clear that that is a serious no no. So we thought that this 1s particular influencer touched on all three issues and really, frankly, was the only one in the travel community with such a large following. 1s Okay. Well, that makes sense. 2s Lauren, I want to thank you. Fascinating conversation. And yes, this is the issue affects anybody who’s on Instagram or social media. What is the veracity of the information that you’re getting? So I think you’re doing a good thing with Travelers United and looking out for travelers, whether it’s an issue like this or resort fees, which vary against, as I mentioned earlier. So I want to wish you success in your travel. And before we sign off, how do people stay in touch with you personally as well as your advocacy group? Yeah. So Travelers United is just find us online. We’re everywhere. We’re Travelers United. I even started a TikTok for us. So maybe we’ll post that sometime. And then with me personally, my Twitter is Lauren Wolf with an e on the end, and 1s I have an Instagram with about 200 followers. So 1s if you want to learn a little bit about travel law and travel consumer protection, it’s Wolf Travel Law and that’s it. Awesome. Warren, thanks again. And safe travels in the future for you. Thanks 3s for tuning in. Check out the legal complaint in the show notes. It’s a fascinating read. Thanks to Alarm for explaining an overview of this fascinating legal case. And remember to check out counting Countries next week for a return of a traditional episode. Keep on counting countries. Bye for now. Out.
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[…] Anyway, now she is being sued by non profit consumer interest group Travelers United and GlobalGaz interviews the lawyer at the non profit who is trying to stop this crap that is infecting the online…. If only this expanded to so many “travel influencers and thought leaders” who are just […]
See the article I wrote on the issue in 2017.
Woman travels around the world…gets sued by a group who things she can’t claim as such. How many men have they focused on. SMH.
I think you meant to write “think” not “things”. Maybe you can write the female lawyer who brought the lawsuit.