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Friday, 20 July, 2001, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Holiday rip-offs 'on the rise'
Britons on holiday
The British are prime targets for timeshare touts
As millions of Britons set off for their summer holidays, the government has warned again of the dangers of high-pressure holiday club sales.

Although laws against timeshare rip-offs have been tightened, and the public claims to be well informed of the risks, holidaymakers are being scammed in ever greater numbers.

The Timeshare Consumers Association (TCA) says calls to its hotline have increased by 50% over the last year.

"People are being tricked into shelling out thousands of pounds on what turn out to be empty promises," said Melanie Johnson, consumer minister at the Department of Trade and Industry.

Clamp down

The government has made periodic attempts to clamp down on timeshare fraud.

In a campaign early this year, John Palmer, a fraudster who sold timeshare apartments to 160,000 couples, was jailed for eight years.

At the time, the authorities claimed that improving legislation both in the UK and around the EU had substantially cleaned up the industry.

But, the conmen have simply adjusted their methods and dropped the telltale "timeshare" name, said Ms Johnson.

Instead, the schemes now call themselves "holiday clubs".

"Many of these types of holiday club memberships are sold by classic 'bait-and-trap' tactics," said Ms Johnson.

Scratch and win

The most common approach is to distribute scratch cards at popular tourist spots.

Flats in Tenerife
Timeshare schemes have reinvented themselves

People whose scratch cards are winners - and they all are - are invited to attend a high-pressure sales session to claim their prize.

Sue and Steve Cliff, from High Wycombe, signed up to a "holiday club" at one such session in Tenerife last year.

They paid 11,000 in two instalments to a company that promised them four weeks' holiday a year in four-star accommodation, and the opportunity to claim back their investment after 51 months.

More than a year later, they had received nothing from the company and had to enlist their solicitor's help to force the firm even to acknowledge their membership.

They will almost certainly be unable to claim back their investment.

The 51-month repayment clause is "just tout's talk", said the TCA.

In this case, though, the timeshare company involved - Club Class Holidays - argues that the Cliff family had been mislead by a fraudulent subvendor. This Tenerife-based distributor is said to have breached its contract with Club Class Holiday, leading to a termination of the business relationship.

Club Class Holidays says the 11,000 was paid to the distributor, but not passed on to the timeshare company itself and advised the couple to recover the money through their credit card company.

Gullible

The British seem to be especially vulnerable to timeshare touts.

Around one-third of all timeshares in Europe are British-owned, according to the TCA.

Nearly 400,000 Britons participate in timeshare schemes.

In 1999, the Office of Fair Trading received 5,800 complaints about timeshare schemes, of which 80% concerned misleading information or non-delivery.

See also:

23 May 01 | N Ireland
16 Feb 00 | Business
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