When we examine the details of requests for assistance we receive from consumers, we often see very familiar signs and patterns that should act as warnings.
Is the business transparent – do they disclose details of ownership and the details of the legal entity? Many of those we subsequently investigate when we receive concerns and complaints do not. In most cases, EU law requires companies to disclose such details on their websites, documentation and communications, including emails. There are some (few) exceptions – but even when these apply, consumers should ask about ownership, location and to what company / person any payments will be made. – and be very wary if these are not disclosed willingly.
Offshore & virtual offices.
Some businesses will have registrations in countries where it is difficult to obtain details of the ownership – and such registrations can also cause problems in the event of disputes. Such locations include Gibraltar, the Seychelles, Panama and Belize.
Some businesses use what are commonly known as ‘Virtual Office’ addresses. They are not based at the location given, but may use an accommodation address and telephone answering services provided by the owners of the offices. In several cases, we found that rogue businesses were not even paying for the service.
Neither of the above are illegal and do not mean that businesses using such resources are untrustworthy – but it is worth being extra vigilant when this is the case.
Some advice is provided by the UK Metropolitan Police on the subject
Cold calling / unsolicited contact
Cold calling is not in itself illegal – although offences may occur if the recipient has registered with the telephone preference service http://www.tpsonline.org.uk/tps. It is sensible though to ask how caller obtained the information – particularly if they know details of timeshare ownership. If the answers are unsatisfactory, a formal demand to answer the question and to determine what information is held can be made by submitting a Subject Access Request to the business making contact.
Timeshare Resale & Relinquishment
Precise details of proposed services
Whilst there are several legitimate businesses in this sector, in many cases, we find that the ‘offers’ being made to consumers for such services are vague — containing few or no details of how the timeshare will be disposed of. Consumers should ask for precise details in writing.
A wise tactic is to request a copy of the terms & conditions that would apply if you were to go ahead – and ask to whom any payments would be made too, so you can carry out further checks. Don’t rush in – ask if you can take the documents away for further consideration and to seek independent advice on.
Offers to purchase
In many cases, we have seen very inflated ‘valuations’ to purchase timeshare – or owners are told that a buyer is already waiting. If such an offer or valuation is made, ask what guarantees are provided – and ask for them in writing.
Legal claims and actions
A number of the requests for assistance received have been from consumers that have been persuaded to part with very large sums of money to purportedly fund legal claims and actions. In many cases, investigations subsequently showed that no action was taken at all – or that the competence demonstrated by the business was inadequate and unlikely to succeed. Several, including some that claim ‘class actions’ are taking place are completely bogus. Even if the service is from a registered firm, ask to have all the details of any proposed action to be put in writing, including an explanation of what risks are present, what fees might be payable further down the line, the likely time such actions will take, an explanation as to the likelihood of success and the consequences of failure and how you will be kept informed.
In the first instance, consumers should check the background thoroughly of any business offering such a service. Are they registered lawyers or claims companies? This is not mandatory, but is worth checking since such businesses are regulated and accountable. If not, consumers should carry out further checks into the business. Ask precisely what process will be used to mount a claim – many rogue businesses are extremely vague about this. Ask for a copy of terms & conditions. If the business is offering a ‘no win, no fee’ basis get them to define what this means – as many use this as an opening and then charge ‘administration fees’.
In many cases, businesses offering resale and relinquishment including legal assistance, then pressure consumers into buying other products – often at high cost. The products being sold in this way include ‘Leisure Credits’ and ‘Lifestyle Memberships’ (sometimes described as Concierge Services). The principal claimed benefits are usually substantial discounts on holidays – but in many cases, the prices can be matched by internet sellers – or the holidays may be promotional visits to timeshare resorts where consumers must attend a sales presentation.
Consumers should check thoroughly into such products to determine whether there are really any credible benefits – and whether it is a product that they genuinely want. Further checks should be made into the precise methods relating to timeshare relinquishment etc. that such businesses say comes as part of a package. Many of the businesses offering such ‘deals’ will also refuse to refund if the consumer changes their minds or states they are not satisfied that promises made are not being kept.
Timeshare / Fractional Ownership
When the product being sold is what can be described as more traditional timeshare, consumers should be sure again that the product is suitable for them and that their rights are being respected. Whilst the European Consumer Centre network has confirmed that there are few consumer complaints being received concerning timeshare itself compared to the other products featured in this blog, consumers should nevertheless ensure they understand the product being offered and their legal rights. The website Go Timeshare, which has been provided by the Resort Development Organisation (RDO) provides useful information to consumers on this link http://www.gotimeshare.org/category/timeshare-consumer-news/consumer-guides/
Check and double-check
Consumers should do everything possible to be sure of what they are being offered.
You can contact official consumer organisations such as UK Citizens Advice or the European Consumer Centres. You can also contact your own lawyers.
The Timeshare Task Force also provides free services to consumers that include the Timeshare Business Check which contains verified details of many businesses in the sector – http://timesharebusinesscheck.org/check-a-business/
Services also include free assistance to consumers that:
Use the following link for the above – http://timesharebusinesscheck.org/report-your-concerns/
At no time will the Timeshare Task Force charge any fees for these services and all responses will be made on the basis of verified information. If consumers appear to be victims of breaches of consumer laws, the Timeshare Task Force will liaise with appropriate European law enforcement agencies.