Timeshare claims cold callers using false identities, including initially claiming to be KwikChex

Consumers have advised that they are increasingly being cold called by people that initially identify themselves as KwikChex or a purported ‘official authority’. They have claimed to be from (for example), The Timeshare Council’ or consumer protection organisations or law firms or court representatives, citing supposed cases that have already taken place which entitle the consumers called to a large compensation sum upon payment of an administrative fee. They also often state that the consumer telephone number was obtained through a ‘European Timeshare Owner Register’.

We ask consumers to be on guard against these deceptive practices and to report them whenever they occur. If you have received such calls and would like assistance in taking action please contact KwikChex using the following:

Online – via Timeshare Business Check https://timesharebusinesscheck.org/free-assistance/

By phone via the UK Timeshare Helpline : 0044 (0)1823 510625

KwikChex services are free to consumers, and are vetted and approved by Trading Standards.

Police warning for timeshare owners

KwikChex has received details of a warning and advice from the South West Regional Organised Crime Unit UK police. This is related to ongoing matters concerning an investigation into a number of businesses. It makes specific mention of the following:

  • Fake Citizens Advice referrals
  • ABC Lawyers
  • Monster Credits
  • Staycation Lodges
  • Fraudulent claims of existing legal cases where compensation amounts are being held for consumers

The police advice is as follows –

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In recent weeks we have received an increasing number enquiries from victims reporting contact from several different companies offering services in relation to either their previous timeshares, their monster credits or their investments in Staycation Lodges. The majority of the information provided by these companies when offering their services is incorrect or at times untrue. For legal reasons we are unable to name the companies directly, however if you are contacted by any company that offers a service based on any of the following information we would strongly advise you to not to accept their services.

1. A company claiming you have been referred to them from Citizens Advice Bureau. Citizens Advice Bureau will NEVER provide your details to any company or ask any company to contact you unless they have your express permission. They are an independent body and if they feel you need assistance from any other agency you will be provided with advice on how to refer yourself.

2. Companies offering to take civil action to reimburse you for your purchase of Staycation Lodges.

3. Companies claiming that Monster Credits had a perpetuity clause that was transferred to your Staycation lodges purchase.

4. Companies claiming that you still own your timeshare with an ever increasing maintenance bill and although you have not received contact for years the timeshare resort is looking to send you a large bill.

5. Companies claiming that you still own your timeshare with an ever increasing maintenance bill and that over the years your maintenance demands have been sent to ABC Lawyers.

6. Companies claiming that various defendants have been prosecuted abroad securing millions in compensation but payment is required to release funds to you.

If you have engaged the services of any company who offered their services based on any of the above points and you have concerns then please contact Citizens Advice.

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KwikChex is already providing free assistance to many consumers affected in the ways described and will be pleased to help all those affected or with concerns. As these are timeshare related matters, consumers can use our dedicated online reporting resource – https://timesharebusinesscheck.org/free-assistance/

Fraudsters use crisis in targeting timeshare owners. What you can do if contacted.

Further to recent general warnings and advice from KwikChex about increased activities by scammers, we are now receiving specific reports of attempts at defrauding timeshare owners.

The latest attempts at scamming timeshare owners involve phone callers falsely telling Hilton Grand Vacations owners in the UK that the business is going into liquidation and offering services to assist the owners. The use of this type of totally false information is not new – but the fraudsters are using the coronavirus crisis to try and convince people that there is substance to it – there is not.

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Update 04/04/2020: Hilton Grand Vacations has issued a fraud alert (below) via email to it’s members and placed a notice on it’s websites (this includes resorts managed by Hilton Grand Vacations).

FRAUD ALERT
We’ve been informed that a third-party company is contacting Owners telling them that Hilton Grand Vacations is in liquidation. This information is untrue. We caution you against engaging with this company. If you’ve been a victim of this scam, please report it to KwikChex, either online through this form or by contacting them at any of the phone numbers listed on their website.

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KwikChex is increasing efforts to assist consumers and tackle scammers during this crisis. The KwikChex team will continue to provide free assistance to consumers and we will do our utmost to answer any enquiries. In addition, we will do all possible to identify the fraudsters and see that enforcement takes place.

If you receive unsolicited calls, texts or emails, the first thing is to know that in almost all cases, those responsible are breaching data laws and have illegally obtained data. KwikChex has a live initiative taking place on this and you can report it to us.

You do not have to engage with such appallingly dishonest people, but if you wish to contribute to the fight against them, you can ask them the following.

  • What is the name of their company?
  • Is the company registered? If so, ask them to provide the company location and registration number.
  • Ask for the name of the actual caller and a phone number they can be contacted on.
  • Ask them where they obtained your details.

Most will end the call. Some will try and bluff, but we advise that you stick to just the above in your responses and if they do provide information, please report it to KwikChex so we can act on it.

Ideally, please use our website resources to make reports as this is the most efficient way for us to collect information Our free assistance form can be found here: https://kwikchex.com/coronavirus-scams-and-dangers/

There are also telephone numbers that can be used. It will not always be possible to talk directly with our team, but an answerphone will also enable you to leave your details for follow up by our team.

Please also see below links for further information –

Our general warnings and advice on scams during the crisis

Advice to timeshare owners during the crisis

KwikChex Hero Award Demonstrates the Value of Private Sector ‘Fraudbusters’

Yahoo Finance, 21st August 2019

The recent presentation of a ‘Hero Award’ by the Chartered Institute of Trading Standards (CTSI) to online investigations and verification business KwikChex highlighted the value of the private sector in fighting what has been an inexorable rise in fraud

Since 2010, KwikChex has been fighting battles to help prevent harm caused by fraudulent online content.  Whilst much attention has been paid to the exposure by KwikChex of millions of fake online reviews  and the removal of thousands specifically designed to harm businesses and consumers, in more recent times, it has been the KwikChex successes relating to protecting consumers and supporting law enforcement against scammers that have become most prominent.

Chris Emmins of KwikChex receives 2019 CTSI Hero Award
Chris Emmins of KwikChex receives 2019 CTSI Hero Award

 

The effectiveness of the KwikChex fraudbusting work was acknowledged on 25 June 2019, with the presentation of a ‘Hero Award’ to Chris Emmins, KwikChex co-founder and director at a special ceremony in London organised by the Chartered Institute of Trading Standards – representing the vital UK Trading Standards enforcement community. Conor Burns MP, recently made minster for state, Department for International Trade presented the award at One Great George Street, Westminster.

KwikChex was cited as having provided ‘expert’ witness testimony in for the prosecution in a number of cases, one of which with potentially millions of pounds worth of fraud.

Chief Executive at CTSI, Leon Livermore, said: “The Business Award is designed to recognise businesses that demonstrate a dedication to protecting consumers. KwikChex not only strives to help consumers who have suffered at the hands of ruthless fraudsters but has been a strong supporter of our profession. I’m pleased to name them our 2019 Business Hero.”

The successful prosecutions and civil actions that have taken place as a result of KwikChex investigations and support have resulted in custodial sentences for fraudsters and also refunds to consumers totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds – and many consumers have been saved from losses by the free advice provided by KwikChex. Particularly prominent has been the work within the timeshare sector, where the KwikChex-managed ‘Timeshare Task Force’ has assisted thousands of timeshare owners that have been targeted by dishonest timeshare claims and relinquishment rogues.

KwikChex is working ever-closer with law enforcement and government organisations to help stem the tide of fraud – and new resources, which will help consumers avoid the scams and prioritise legal actions against the fraudsters are set to be made available later in 2019.

As the Trading Standards award has confirmed, the KwikChex model of funding from the private sector to tackle internet-enabled fraud is becoming more and more vital at a time of increasing threat and much-reduced funding for law enforcement.  Bringing businesses committed to high standards and strong consumer protection together with intelligence gained from investigations and consumer information is crucial to tackling one of the biggest crime problems the world has faced. It will play an increasingly important and effective role in future.

View the article on Yahoo Finance:
https://finance.yahoo.com/news/kwikchex-hero-award-demonstrates-value-080000901.html?guccounter=1

See the story of the KwikChex Hero Award – on the Trading Standards Journal website
http://www.journaloftradingstandards.co.uk/hero-awards/fraud-prevention-service-wins-award/

‘Timeshare fraudster ordered to pay £1000’s to victims’

Further actions have taken place in a criminal case that KwikChex supported with evidence gained from investigations and consumer reports.

Frank Madden was previously sentenced to 40 months imprisonment for operating a bogus holiday discount club scam and has now been ordered to pay back £20,000 and had further banning orders imposed.

Read the article here:
Timeshare fraudster ordered to pay £1000’s to victims
https://www.bcpcouncil.gov.uk/News/News-Articles/Timeshare-fraudster-ordered-to-pay-1000s-back-to-victim.aspx
(BCP Council, 8th July 2019)

ITRA – International Timeshare Refund Action wound up in the High Court

On 30th January 2019, International Timeshare Refund Action – more commonly known as ITRA, was wound up in the High Court of Justice England & Wales. This followed a petition made by a couple that had taken ITRA to court on grounds of unlawful conduct involving misrepresentations and failure to provide promised services concerning timeshare relinquishment and compensation. ITRA failed to refund monies as ordered by the court.
 
The original claim case against ITRA was one of several brought successfully against the business by consumers, with a number of courts repeatedly finding that ITRA had used deceptive methods and not provided services as agreed.  ITRA has a long track record of being involved in such deceptions and was previously named by UK authorities as playing a pivotal part in a serious and long running scam – a ‘bait & switch’ operation where consumers were lured by supposed legal assistance and then sold fraudulent ‘concierge services’ – a form of what has also been described as ‘Leisure Credits’, about which the authorities have issued strong warnings.
 
Assistance for consumers affected by ITRA
 
KwikChex, which manages the Timeshare Task Force has assisted  consumers with several successful claims against ITRA and has helped coordinate the Winding Up process.  We are aware that many consumers have been affected and are providing free assistance. There is an ongoing investigation into ITRA activities and consumers that have paid monies to ITRA can make contact via our reporting page –  The service is free and is approved by Trading Standards. See the following link to our accreditation and consumer feedback https://www.buywithconfidence.gov.uk/profile/kwikchex/24358/ 
All consumers will be provided with advice and their cases can be passed to a specialist insolvency practitioner.
 
Connections to ECC – European Consumer Claims.
 
The owners of ITRA are also trading through a business known as ECC – European Consumer Claims. In several cases, ECC are attempting to take over cases from ITRA and in some instances are demanding fees.
 
ECC is also the subject of consumer complaints and has worked alongside ITRA, with common ownership and the same employees and premises.  ECC has been in breach of a number of laws, with failures to disclose ownership on websites and other business communications and failure to register under data protection regulations.   Any consumers concerned regarding these aspects of ECC’s trading can also make contact via our reporting page

Another judgement issued against ITRA in court – and this time they don’t even show up

International Timeshare Refund Action (ITRA) have once again had a judgement made against them in a court action brought by a consumer and supported by KwikChex.

On 4th June at Stoke-On-Trent County Court, ITRA were ordered to refund a consumer all the monies he paid to them plus costs – a total of over £5700. On this occasion, although fully aware of the proceedings, ITRA did not appear to defend the claim.

ITRA have lost several cases at courts across the UK in recent times after consumers took actions, citing misrepresentation and breach of contract. KwikChex has assisted many consumers that have complained that they have been pressured into paying thousands of pounds for supposed timeshare relinquishment and claims services which were never delivered.

The consumer in the latest case thanked KwikChex for the help provided and said that the judge had commended KwikChex for the work being done and for providing free assistance.

Update on ITRA & ECC

In recent times, after a run of defeats in court and adverse publicity,  those behind ITRA appear to be abandoning the ITRA brand and switching to their newer ECC brand, (European Claims Centre or European Consumer Claims). ECC is being operated by the same people from the same locations as ITRA. Complaints and concerns are already emerging about ECC and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) have already upheld a complaint against the business  for misleading advertising, with the ruling clearly identifying their close association with ITRA – see link to ruling – https://www.asa.org.uk/rulings/european-claims-centre-llc-a16-334571.html

Timeshare Task Force responds to over 1000 consumer requests for assistance in 11 months

Since the launch  of the new Timeshare Helpline, in July 2017 the Timeshare Task Force operated by KwikChex, has received and responded to over 1000 requests for assistance and successfully resolved half of these, with the remainder receiving ongoing support.
As a provider of evidence and witness statements the TTF has helped secure:
•       The convictions of 3 persons involved in rogue activities
•       Multiple arrests
•       4 Judgements in favour of consumers in County Court proceedings against ITRA
•       The closure of numerous websites and businesses, including EZE Group
Consumers have been assisted with refunds totalling over a quarter of a million pounds.
All assistance to consumers is completely free, with funding being provided by the Resort Development Organisation (RDO), the representative organisation for timeshare developers in Europe.
The Task Force has a 5 star Trading Standards Approved rating, with outstanding feedback – see example below.
“Extremely helpful and supportive and completely free! They helped me to achieve a complete refund of all monies within a few weeks. Totally upfront and with valuable connections to Trading Standards and The Citizens’ Advice Bureau. I would totally recommend them to anybody with Timeshare problems. Definitely use them!”
See more reviews and details of our Trading Standards vetted & approved accreditation – https://www.buywithconfidence.gov.uk/profile/kwikchex/24358/

Serial offender Frank Madden sentenced to 40 months imprisonment

Francis (Frank) Madden was yesterday (Tuesday 01 May) sentenced to 40 months imprisonment for scamming consumers in a supposed holiday discount scheme.

The sentence was handed down after he changed his plea to guilty on reduced charges.

Madden was previously convicted on two occasions and was actually under a suspended sentence when KwikChex detected him involved in the same activities again. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/money/news/article-3094117/Investigators-suspect-fraudster-targeting-elderly-scams-incredibly-say-t-afford-prosecute-savage-cuts.

After luring people in to meetings with thousands of cold calls, he pressured his victims, many of whom were elderly, into parting with large sums of money, telling them they would enjoy fantastic holidays in return – but there was no substance at all – holidays were hardly ever available and people had to pay big supplements if they did want to go on trips.

In 2012 he was sentenced to six months in prison suspended for 24 months after admitting eight counts of unfair trading. The offences related to the company Hotweeks. Victims then were conned out of up to £2,000 to get discounts on accommodation, flights and cruises.

We are very pleased that justice hast been done, having reported Madden’s latest activities to Trading Standards and provided evidence, and a witness statement. The persistence of Trading standards Officers, should be recognised in achieving this result.

His co-defendant Claire Garland, admitted two counts of failing to provide cancellation rights, and was sentenced to a 12 month conditional discharge after it was accepted that Madden had used her as a ‘puppet’ and she had been left in considerable debt by his criminal activities.

Madden’s conviction comes hard on the heels of those of father and daughter Dominic and Stephanie O’Reilly of EZE Group, who pleaded guilty in November to offences relating to the selling of another bogus holiday-based product known as ‘Leisure Credits’. They are currently awaiting sentencing. Again, KwikChex as part of our Trading Standards Approved  Timeshare Task Force activities, provided evidence and a witness statement to Trading Standards.

If you believe you have been affected by a scam you can report it to KwikChex: https://kwikchex.com/consumers/

ITRA Lose again in court

Another consumer supported by the free services of the Timeshare Task Force has been awarded a full refund, plus costs and interests totalling nearly £10,000

On 27th March at Workington County Court, ITRA were ordered to pay a consumer a total of £9765.90. This included a full refund of £7640.00, plus costs and interest.

The judge ruled that ITRA were guilty of misrepresentation in the sales process, deceiving the consumers by making false statements and promises and breach of contract for not carrying out promised work. She stated that “There was a complete failure by ITRA to comply with the Consumer Rights Act”

This is the third court case in succession that KwikChex, acting in its role of leading the Timeshare Task Force has provided free support to consumers making such claims against ITRA.  Other cases where KwikChex has provided assistance have been settled by ITRA prior to the hearings.

Once again, the judge was highly critical of ITRA, stating that there was misrepresentation (or at the very least negligence) at the original sales meeting held at ITRA’s Spanish offices. The judge accepted the statement by the consumer that he had been told that the process would take 6 – 8 weeks (a common complaint by consumers regarding ITRA) and that they would quickly win back compensation that would pay for the ITRA fees.  In fact, nothing of substance had been done for the 10 months prior to the consumer bringing the case to court.

The judge questioned why ITRA had not sent a single letter to assist the consumer with relinquishment and a supposed claim within an 8 month period and did not enter into any effective dialogue with the timeshare company during this time. As in other cases, after contacting KwikChex via the Timeshare Business Check website (timesharebusinesscheck.org), the consumer, in addition to receiving help with the claim against ITRA, was also able to relinquish their timeshare directly.

‘Stephen John’ – in reality Patrick O’Connor using an alias again involved and criticised

As in previous cases,  a Patrick O’Connor gave evidence as a defence witness for ITRA – and as has happened previously, the judge found that he lacked credibility. O’Connor, with ITRA’s full knowledge uses the name ‘Stephen John’ when working on behalf of ITRA. He has previously stated that he does this because Stephen John is easier for people to remember – but when questioned in court this time, he told the court that he works for 14 different companies and uses different aliases for many. When questioned by the judge how many aliases he has, O’Connor replied he had seven different names.

The judge also found that there was no evidence of what ‘ITRA legal’ had done at all. ITRA Legal is supposed to be the legal expert arm of the ITRA operation – but requests to identify the ‘experts’ and disclose their qualifications have never been replied to with any clarification. O’Connor, when asked to identify who he worked with within ITRA Legal, was only able to give some first names, saying he did not know their last names.

Defeats in court,  and previous involvement in banned businesses lead to formation of a new company by ITRA – ECC or European Claims Centre

In recent times, those behind and working for ITRA (which hides ownership details by registering the company in the Seychelles and false claims to have a ‘head office ‘in Gibraltar have started using a new entity – European Claims Centre (usually shortened to ECC). This should not be confused with the European  Consumer Centre, which also uses the initials ECC and is an official consumer protection organisation, which in the UK is affiliated with Trading Standards.

ITRA’s ECC has already been found to be  practicing their own deceptions.  An Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruling upheld complaints brought by KwikChex that information on their website was untrue and misleading. And whilst they have tried to distance themselves from ITRA when questioned by consumers, they admitted the close relationship in trying unsuccessfully to defend themselves, stating “that ITRA and ECC had the same shareholders and were therefore legally associated companies.” The full details of the ASA ruling can be found on the following link to the ASA website – https://www.asa.org.uk/rulings/european-claims-centre-llc-a16-334571.html

Further cases pending

Other consumers assisted by KwikChex are also taking action against ITRA.  Any consumer that has paid fees to ITRA and has concerns about the business or suspects that they have not been provided with the promised services can avail themselves of the free services provided via the Timeshare Task Force. Information is available on the following websites:

timesharebusinesscheck.org

timesharetaskforce.org

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