According to a report by local10.com reporter Andrea Torres, the owner of a dive center in Miami-Dade’s Doral neighborhood is facing criminal charges for issuing false PADI certifications to his customers. In the wake of a series of accusations asserting the fraudulence of owner Abdiel Falcon’s operation at Ocean Hunters Dive Center, Attorney General Pam Bondi has now filed an official complaint against him. He stands accused of conning approximately 300 would-be divers into paying between $149-$399 for a false certification course. If charged, Falcon could face civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation. In the case of a violation involving a senior citizen, the fine could be as much as $15,000, and Falcon would also be responsible for covering all the costs of an investigation and the consequent litigation process. The accusations against Falcon have been substantiated by PADI, who issued a Fraud Warning to all PADI Dive Centers and Resorts in the state of Florida confirming that Ocean Hunters and Abdiel Falcon “are not, and never were, PADI Members.”
Despite the fact that Falcon has never completed even a basic PADI certification, much less achieved professional standing, the false cards issued by Ocean Hunters came with the PADI logo and looked almost identical to their legitimate counterparts. A link on the PADI website shows a comparison of the two cards, with subtle differences including the use of a different image on the false cards, and a Diver Number comprised of 11 digits rather than 10. Although criminal charges have only recently been filed against Ocean Hunters, a quick look at review sites including TripAdvisor and Yelp shows that customers have been lodging complaints against Falcon and his dive center since at least 2013.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. Fraudulent dive centers and instructors are all too common, and in some countries, it is even possible to purchase imitation PADI certification cards from street vendors in the street, something that I have personally witnessed on Bangkok’s Khao San Road. Certifying through a legitimate operation is vitally important, not only in terms of getting what you paid for, but also in terms of ensuring your own safety. Training organizations like PADI have strict quality control procedures in place to monitor the performance of their registered instructors to ensure that students are taught all the skills they need to dive safely. It is essential to make sure your chosen dive center is a licensed member of a recognized teaching organization before signing up for one of their courses. Ask to see their credentials; both the dive center and your instructor should appear as up-to-date members on their training organization’s online database.
Although the case against Abdiel Falcon and Ocean Hunters Dive Center is currently pending, Yelp now lists the center as closed, meaning that at least for now, this operation is no longer endangering lives through false scuba instruction and certification.