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Subject: Channel NewsAsia (07 May 2005) - Members of timeshare companies take legal action to recover money

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Date Posted: Sun, May 08 2005, 2:04:11

Singapore News
Time is GMT + 8 hours
Posted: 07 May 2005 1851 hrs

Members of timeshare companies take legal action to recover money
By Pearl Forss, Channel NewsAsia

Tired of holiday dreams that have gone awry, consumers are hitting back at timeshare companies with lawsuits, citing misrepresentation.

But some timeshare companies are now threatening to sue some of these consumers for voiding their contracts.

Started in the 1960s, timeshare is a holiday concept which has a group of people sharing the purchase cost of a vacation accommodation.

And members get to use it in increments of one week (or more) per year of use.

This accommodation can range from hotel rooms to condos, or even yachts and cruise ships.

Under the various schemes, members make a one-time downpayment of between $10,000 and $40,000 and get to stay at a premier holiday resort for a week once a year for a number of years.

That was the promise timeshare companies made to more than 15,000 members in Singapore.

But, as many of the members found out, the payments do not stop there.

Timeshare owners found they still have to pay an annual maintenance fee of a few hundred dollars for the resort shared.

Jean Yew, who paid $32,480 for a membership, said: "After paying 21k for timeshare, we still have to pay $300 in membership fees and this is ever increasing, up to $400. And in order to get out of this cycle, they asked us to purchase concept vacation club."

And some do spend another $8,000 to $20,000 buying into a concept vacation club or CVC - which also goes by other names - like vacation ownership schemes or holiday rewards club.

The scheme is supposed to help them access other timeshare resorts

But in 2003, this same group of consumers were asked to buy into the cashback scheme instead.

Adding up the dollars, a timeshare owner could have spent anything from $22,300 to $75,600.

Kenny Tan said: "They enticed me by giving me cashback, saying I can get back all my investments."

He paid $30,000 to join a timeshare scheme.

George K Krishnan, Former Timeshare Consultant, said: "Cashback scheme is just to tell people after a certain number of years, you can get money back and they guarantee you, they tell you how they put money into the FTSC index. Has anybody ever gotten any money back? No, not that I know of."

Frustrated by the endless rounds of payment, some have stopped their monthly payments on all schemes and started legal proceedings.

But a class action suit filed by 13 timeshare owners was turned down by the courts last September as each case involved different circumstances.

Undeterred, the plaintiffs are now proceeding with individual lawsuits.

Ng Soo Kok, who paid $25,000 to a timeshare company, said: "They are trapped in a rut. By paying the money they will be paying for a scam that they know it is, if they don't pay, they receive a letter from a lawyer suing them and it's really a hassle."

Lawyer Ismail Atan, Director, Gabriel Law Corporation, is representing five of them.

So far he has won one case against Leisure Marketing Group in January.

The court ordered the company to return his client $15,000 under the Consumer Act.

He said: "What this could mean is that consumers who had purchase such a product could go to courts and perhaps succeed on their own claims."

But the Consumer Association of Singapore says consumers should try to resolve their disputes with timeshare companies through CASE before seeing their lawyers.

Seah Seng Choon, Executive Director, Consumers Association of Singapore, said: "Certainly the successful court action by this member is going to encourage others to go to court but I would suggest that the consumer come to us first so we can help them to resolve the case without having to incur legal costs."

And this could be be more than $3,000.

CASE received a record number of over 2,700 complaints against timeshare companies last year.

And in the last three years, it helped resolve 2 out of 3 complaints. - CNA /ch

Copyright 2005 MCN International Pte Ltd

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