The Clampdown on Illegal Holiday ‘Bait & Switch’ Businesses Gathers Pace

The law is catching up with those involved in ‘Leisure Credits’ and Bogus Holiday Club scams, with arrests, prison sentences and heavy financial penalties taking place.

Way back in 2013, the UK European Consumer Centre warned of a new holiday product that was set up to intentionally avoid the legislation that protects consumers in the timeshare sector. They described how holidaymakers were being promised holiday club memberships or discounts for years to come on future accommodation bookings, as well as other leisure products such as spa days, or the use of sports facilities and were being typically being charged up to £15,000 to sign up.

What was not made clear at the time was the ‘double-scam’ involved – the targeting of timeshare owners, lured in with false offers of anything from a part-exchange for their timeshare to purported legal services to terminate timeshare contracts and claim monies back.

The news that father and daughter Dominic and Stephanie O’Reilly, who ran the substantial EZE Group scam have been ordered to pay back over £400,000 has recently highlighted the way that legal and claims services formed an integral part of the scams taking place. The O’Reillys had previously been convicted and given prison sentences and now UK National Trading Standards has had court orders imposed on them to claw back the illegal profits they made

The Bait & Switch

As described by Trading Standards, EZE typically targeted timeshare owners, persuading them to sign up “for services they did not want or need, including services to dispose of timeshares and a ‘club membership’ offering discounts that didn’t really exist. The presentations made false claims that victims’ existing timeshares would last in perpetuity and that huge debts would be passed onto their children unless consumers signed up to EZE timeshare disposal services.“  Other businesses were also involved to help convince consumers of the supposed ‘benefits’, including closely connected travel and legal services companies. In the case of EZE, consumers were passed on to the likes of ‘Everywhere Travel’ – controlled by Stephanie O’Reilly and Praetorian Legal – a regulated Claims Management Company (CMC) that Dominic O’Reilly served as a director of before falling out with owner Gary Smith – the latter who also served as the EZE ‘Legal & Compliance Director’ and who used another company, LCM Law to pursue EZE victims for payments and threaten legal actions against consumers who publicly complained about EZE.

Millions lost by consumers in similar circumstances

Although the most high profile of these scams (EZE were previously sponsors of Birmingham City FC and an ‘Official Club Partner of Celtic FC), they are in fact one of many involved in such deceptions,  and huge losses have been suffered by consumers, many of whom are elderly.

In 2012,  Seven connected businesses known collectively as the Club Class network were closed down by the UK government.  Here, the UK Insolvency Service stated “timeshare owners were encouraged to sign up to a group action against the timeshare industry to be conducted by an organisation called International Timeshare Refund Action (ITRA).  The court heard that instead, the ITRA presentation became a Club Class presentation in which consumers were informed there was a “one-off” opportunity for them to irrevocably relinquish their timeshares in part-payment for the substantial cost of the Club Class membership, which ranged from around £7,000 to £15,000. Consumers were unaware in advance that this was the true purpose of the meeting.” In this case, the ‘legal services provider, ITRA, continued to trade until 2019, when a High Court order closed them down after the business failed to pay refunds to consumers as ordered by the courts. Andrew Cooper, a director of two of the businesses shut down in 2012 and a ‘consultant’ to ITRA is now a director of ‘ECC’ – European Consumer Claims, which has admitted in the past that they “had an agreement in place with International Timeshare Refund Action (ITRA) to introduce clients to ITRA’s consultation centres throughout the UK so that they could contract ITRA services. They further explained that “ITRA and ECC had the same shareholders and were therefore legally associated companies

And in 2017,  police raided the UK and Spanish offices of a business called Monster Travel, making several arrests. Monster had also claimed to be providing this mix of Leisure Credits and timeshare disposal services.  The owner of Monster, Mark Rowe, who is on police bail pending the outcome of investigations, subsequently started up other similar operations where he again connected ‘holiday discount clubs’ to timeshare legal services -with the latter trading as ‘ABC Legal / ABC Lawyers / Timeshare.Lawyer.  Rowe has since closed these too – with Andrew Cooper’s ECC saying they have bought the ‘assets’ – the customer databases and websites etc. (but not the actual businesses).

And in 2018, Francis ‘Frank’ Madden was sentenced to 40 months in prison after a series of offences involving bogus holiday clubs stretching back years. He too often targeted timeshare owners – particularly elderly ones, with promises of timeshare disposal. Madden was also ordered to hand over personal assets of £20,000 in 2019.

Investigations into much of the above and other significant, similar cases is continuing.  KwikChex estimates that over £100 million of consumer detriment has taken place related to such scams.

Seeking assistance

Of course, there are genuine complaints that may be brought by consumers. In many instances, these may be addressed and resolutions reached directly with the timeshare company – or by using recognised mediation services.

Where formal actions are considered necessary, the experience of thousands of consumers affected by situations such as those above demonstrates there is a need for extreme caution and due diligence.  Some claims may for example be made free of charge by consumers and free advice on this is provided by organisations such as Citizens Advice.

KwikChex,  a consumer protection award-winning business which manages the Timeshare Task Force and is accredited by UK Trading Standards has provided evidence and witness statements in these matters and is available to provide free assistance to any consumers that have been affected or have concerns or simply want to carry out checks.

Advice – Timeshare Termination Team Truro (TTT)

Consumers have contacted KwikChex with concerns about Timeshare Termination Team Truro.

The concerns centre on the following issues.

1. Fees are being demanded for contract termination which have not been legally substantiated. Checks by consumers found that the contracts were still said to be in force.

2. The business states that it is pursuing Section 75 claims (under the Consumer Credit Act), but it is not regulated to do so.

3. On the Timeshare Termination Team website, it states “Our mission started in 2014”, implying that it has been active since that date – but the company was only incorporated in November 2019.

4. Purported client reviews on its website date back to 2015 – 4 years before the business was incorporated.

5. The website states “Timeshare Termination Team is a trading style of Exit My Timeshare Group.” which is not a registered company and fails to provide the actual incorporated name and number.

Further Information –
Timeshare Business Check profile for Timeshare Termination Team Truro: https://timesharebusinesscheck.org/directory/timeshare-termination-team-truro

 

Reports have now been made to Cornwall Trading Standards. If you are a consumer that has concerns about the above, please contact KwikChex using our Free assistance form below and we can advise further.

https://timesharebusinesscheck.org/free-assistance

Assistance is entirely free and the service is Trading Standards vetted and approved.

EZE GROUP SCAM UPDATE

Information below provided by National Trading Standards

FATHER AND STEPDAUGHTER ORDERED TO PAY BACK OVER £400,000

Two individuals have been ordered to pay back £424,560 for their part in a ‘leisure club’ scam. The confiscation orders were handed down at Birmingham Crown Court on 12 February 2020, where Dominic O’Reilly and Stephanie O’Reilly were ordered to pay £274,560 and £150,000 respectively for their part in running Eze Europe Ltd and linked businesses.

The confiscation orders follow custodial sentences handed down at Birmingham Crown Court in March 2019. Dominic O’Reilly was sentenced to a total of 28 months in prison and Stephanie O’Reilly had received a sentence of 18 months’ imprisonment, suspended for two years.

If they fail to pay the latest confiscation orders within three months, they will face further prison time: Dominic O’Reilly would face a default sentence of a further two years behind bars and Stephanie O’Reilly would face a default sentence of 18 months’ imprisonment.

The pair had previously pleaded guilty to offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 for their roles in aggressive mis-selling. Between 2014 and 2017, the father and stepdaughter managed ‘Eze Group’, which oversaw various interconnected businesses, including:

  • Eze Europe Ltd
  • Regency Shores S.L
  • Everywhere Travel Ltd
  • Dreamland Breaks
  • Timeshare Information Centre
  • Timeshare Advice Bureau

These businesses were deliberately set up to appear independent from one another. In practice, they were part of a bigger operation to coerce individuals to attend a presentation run by Eze Europe Ltd.

Eze Group businesses would invite consumers, typically existing timeshare owners, on a free ‘mini break’, which included a presentation given by Eze staff. Some presentations lasted up to eight hours and attendees were subjected to aggressive and highly manipulative sales tactics to encourage them to sign up for services they did not want or need, including services to dispose of timeshares and a ‘club membership’ offering discounts that didn’t really exist.

The presentations made false claims that victims’ existing timeshares would last in perpetuity and that huge debts would be passed onto their children unless consumers signed up to Eze timeshare disposal services. Many consumers reported that they felt trapped at the venue and therefore signed up to Eze services because they felt that it was the only way to be able to leave and return to their hotel.

Consumers believed that they could simply cancel the agreement afterwards, but the company tried to avoid offering customers cancellation rights. This was despite ongoing warnings by Trading Standards from late 2014 that cancellation rights applied.

Enforcement action was taken in April 2016 by the National Trading Standards Regional Investigations Team in Central England, supported by officers from Warwickshire Trading Standards. Complaints continued to be received from consumers about the sales practices being used until 2018, by which time the group was only operating in Spain.

The pair had previously pleaded guilty to offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and had been sentenced in March 2019 for their roles in the mis-selling being done under the banner of the Eze Group.

——-

Further information and assistance from KwikChex –

We are aware of many attempts by rogue businesses to defraud consumers by falsely claiming they can obtain refunds for EZE Group victims. To clarify – aside from a Section 75 claim for payments made via credit card (which you can carry out free of charge independently), there are no viable court actions regarding EZE Group. Due to this we would advise extreme caution toward any company offering their services to you in this regard and advise NOT to pay any monies or enter into any agreements. Please contact us if you are approached in this way.

For assistance with all enquiries and concerns, please contact us https://timesharebusinesscheck.org/free-assistance

Assistance is entirely free and the service is Trading Standards vetted and approved.

O1C Leisure and Legal Solutions SL

Also trading as O1C Legal and Our One Club.

Consumers have advised KwikChex of unsolicited approaches by O1C Leisure and Legal Solutions. This business has been informing consumers that they can assist in getting monies back from a number of businesses, including

EZE Group
Monster Travel
Club Class
ABC Legal / ABC Lawyers

All of the above businesses have been the subject of official actions by authorities and have ceased trading.  The likelihood of any successful claim against these businesses is therefore negligible – unless consumers have paid with a UK credit card, in which case it may be possible to make  a claim under the Consumer Credit Act, which can be done free of charge.

O1C are now the subject of an official warning by the UK Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) – see link – https://www.fca.org.uk/news/warnings/ouroneclub Which was almost certainly as a result of excellent investigative journalism by Mail journalist Tony Hetherington who exposed concerns about O1C – see link to article – https://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/experts/article-7817051/TONY-HETHERINGTON-2-999-recoup-loss-timeshare-Dream-on.html


Further information

EZE Group – see information https://timesharebusinesscheck.org/dominic-oreilly-jailed/ Claims may be possible by consumers that paid by a UK credit card. There is also the possibility of compensation via the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Monster Travel – see information https://timesharebusinesscheck.org/monster-travel-sellmytimeshare-tv-warning/ Claims may be possible by consumers that paid by a UK credit card.

Club Class – A network of rogue businesses wound up by the UK authorities in 2012. See official release, which also includes information on the role played by a connected company known as ITRA.

ABC Legal, ABC Lawyers – UK companies in liquidation and the Spanish business states it has sold assets to ECC or European Consumer Claims. See information and further links to Monster, Club Class and ITRA – https://timesharebusinesscheck.org/european-consumer-claims-ecc-now-also-control-abc-lawyers-abc-legal/. Claims may be possible by consumers that paid by a UK credit card.

For assistance with all enquiries and concerns, please contact us https://timesharebusinesscheck.org/free-assistance
Assistance is entirely free and the service is Trading Standards vetted and approved.

 

European Consumer Claims (ECC) now also control ABC Lawyers / ABC Legal

We have been notified that the business generally known as ‘ECC’ has acquired  the brand, websites and customer data of the businesses trading under the ‘ABC Lawyers’ network of businesses. These include the following

 

ABC Legal
ABC
ABC Lawyers (www.ABC-Legal.reviews)
Timeshare Lawyer (www.Timeshare.lawyer)
Timeshare Advice (www.Timeshare-Advice.co.uk)

They also include the purported consumer advice website called the Timeshare Consumer Association.

The ABC Lawyers network was previously under the control of a Mark Rowe, who was arrested along with several of those that work for him on 28 November 2017 as a result of police investigations into businesses Rowe also owned at that time, including Monster Travel and SellMyTimeshare.tv. Raids were carried out on the various offices of these businesses in the UK and Spain and equipment and documents seized. Rowe and others involved are currently on police bail whilst investigations continue.  Rowe subsequently closed a number of businesses and opened and closed others, including some under the ABC Lawyers / Legal branding.

The business that has stated it has taken over the ABC lawyers operations is ECC – European Consumer Claims, which operates several entities under the ECC brand in the UK, Spain and one that is registered in the USA. 

The ECC company that is at the forefront is a UK registered business – European Consumer Claims Ltd.  The sole director of this business is Andrew Charles Cooper.

Cooper had previously been a director of two businesses – Club Class Concierge Ltd, (Company number 05932332) and Bridge View Consultants Ltd., (Company number 06971280) that were amongst seven that were closed down on the orders of the UK government to protect consumers against unlawful activities that included luring timeshare owners to presentations with promises of timeshare contract termination and potential compensation – and then pressure-selling them bogus holiday and ‘lifestyle’ products. Also named as  involved in these activities was a business known as ‘ITRA’ – International Timeshare Refund Action, which promised timeshare relinquishment services. Andrew Cooper played a key role in the operation of ITRA too – and this business was also shut down by a winding up order in the UK High Court after failing to refund monies to consumers as ordered by the courts when it failed to provide the promised timeshare relinquishment services consumers had paid several thousand pounds for.

 

Also involved in the ECC network are

European Consumer Claims LLC. This business is inserted into ECC consumer contracts and is registered in Washington state, USA. It hides actual ownership (the identity of the individuals that own shares) and claimed to have an office in Gibraltar – which the Gibraltar government Office of Fair Trading (OFT) has stated is untrue. Consumers that have entered into legal disputes with ECC have experienced severe problems in bringing their claims as the UK company owned by Andrew Cooper that collects the fees for ECC denies any liability and says that it is the US business that are responsible. And legal representatives for the US business say that any claims filed against it must be served in the USA.

European Consumer Claims SL, registered in Spain. This company (via a common director and connected Spanish companies) is also closely linked to the Club Class and ITRA businesses that have been closed down by court actions brought by the UK government and consumers.

Got great advice regarding termination of a timeshare contract in Tenerife

Got great advice regarding termination of a timeshare contract in Tenerife. They looked at a company offering the service in this country but advised going direct to the timeshare company before engaging any other services. We did this using a template letter from the internet requesting termination and the reasons. The company agreed to relinquish the contract for a fee to cover legal and administrative costs that was a third of the price of the UK based company. This was only on the understanding that neither party had any further financial claim on each other. We were happy with this as we have enjoyed and used the timeshare over the years and just didn’t want to be tied in for the next 52 years. If you are going after compensation I doubt they will release on those terms. Good luck

(Reviewed DECEMBER 2019)

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