Britons conned in holiday club scams

Bait and trap » Pricey Costa vacations that never materialise are 'sold' using the same methods as the timeshare ripoffs of the 1980s
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The Independent Online

Britons are falling for a new form of holiday fraud which is already rivalling the timeshare scams of the 1980s: the holiday club.

Britons are falling for a new form of holiday fraud which is already rivalling the timeshare scams of the 1980s: the holiday club.

Around 70 complaints a week have been made about this latest confidence trick to the Timeshare Consumers Association

Now the Government, in advance of proposed European talks to outlaw the holiday club rip-offs, is warning tourists to be vigilant.

Consumer Minister Melanie Johnson said: "People are being tricked into shelling out thousands of pounds on what turn out to be empty promises. Unscrupulous holiday club operators promise a lifetime of cheap holidays in exotic locations but deliver nothing. Victims not only lose their holiday but also their hard-earned savings."

Many holiday club memberships – offering deluxe breaks at package holiday prices – are sold by classic bait-and-trap tactics. People are offered free holidays or gifts, or are told they have won prizes in return for attending a presentation.

Then come the pressure-selling methods: the drinks flow and the signatures are collected. It is only on their return home that people find they have no right to cancel, the deal was not what they thought they were getting and they have lost their money.

While consumers are protected by law from timeshare scams, because holiday clubs are not linked to any particular property they are not covered by the legislation.

According to the DTI, holiday club hot spots include popular resorts like the Costa del Sol, Tenerife, Lanzarote and Gran Canaria.

It was in Tenerife that Sue and Steve Cliff from High Wycombe were duped into signing up for a holiday club last year. They now fear they have lost more than £10,000.

The Cliffs were approached in the street during their holiday and offered a winning scratch card. But to claim their prize they were taken to the company's office, given drinks and a presentation. They were told the product was not a timeshare but a unique investment opportunity.

They signed up, through a company called Dinastia, to the "Gold Pack" with Club Class Holidays, believing they were entitled to four weeks holidays a year in four-star accommodation, at destinations of their choice.

Despite promises of special offers galore, it took 13 months and the intervention of their solicitor to receive just the welcome pack. And when they tried to take the holidays they wanted, the Cliffs found they were no longer available because the terms of the offer had changed.

Mrs Cliff said she felt "gullible" to have fallen for the scam but warned others who might be tempted.

"This is the timeshare scam for the new millennium," she said.

Only the European Union as a whole can legislate against unscrupulous operators. Meanwhile, the Government has produced a leaflet to warn travellers of the dangers and inform them of their rights for timeshares and holiday club schemes.

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