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Consumers warned of new breed of timeshare scam

Written by: Paloma Kubiak
Consumers are urged to be wary of unsolicited contact from companies offering to dispose of a timeshare or claiming they have a buyer to cover the slots.

The popularity of timeshares has dived since its heyday of the 1980s. But those who bought them 30+ years ago may want to exit the agreements because they can no longer travel abroad, afford the maintenance fees or because they don’t want to burden families with disposal in the future.

Consumers are more aware of timeshare ‘scams’ now and as a result, there’s very little demand to buy a timeshare on the retail market, according to the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI).

As such, companies have sprung up to help people wishing to exit their agreements, many of which have rebranded from selling the original timeshares. But this comes at a very high cost.

Trading Standards and Citizen’s Advice are receiving increasing numbers of complaints about such companies charging fees of around £7,000. While consumers believe this covers ‘legal fees’, this isn’t always the case and the fees may actually be for membership of discount clubs instead.

The organisations are advising consumers to be wary of using such companies without carrying out their own research. They said timeshare holders should check the terms for exit with their own firm first as many will allow you to walk away after paying a number of maintenance charges.

Often these are substantially less than the fees charged by the companies. Another point it highlights is for consumers to check they’re not inadvertently entering another new timeshare to offset the old one.

It also urges caution where a firm uses the term ‘lawyer’ and suggests checking the Law Society’s official directory.

CTSI director of operations, Andy Allen, said, “Despite the falling popularity of traditional timeshare products the UK European Consumer Centre service continues to be contacted by large numbers of consumers who have lost significant amounts of money to timeshare related scams.

“Rogue companies have continually evolved their products in an attempt to evade the protection offered by legislation, and they have also been very clever at developing a variety of guises, the specialist claims ‘lawyer’ being one of them, in order to further target timeshare owners.”

‘Don’t let your guard down on holiday’

CTSI said it’s also receiving reports from holidaymakers being approached to attend a presentation offering further holiday accommodation opportunities which could be a timeshare, holiday ownership or a discount holiday club.

Holidaymakers may be subjected to pressure sales meaning they may part with large sums of money.

The European Union has llegislation covering the sale of timeshare and other holiday products, and there are strict rules about the way in which the sales can be carried out. These include the requirement to give consumers key information and cancellation rights, and the prohibition of any upfront deposits being taken.

Anyone with concerns about timeshare or resale companies should contact Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06 or Action Fraud on 0300 123 2050.

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