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Subject: The New Paper, 21 Mar 2005 - Timeshare time bomb no sale, not even refund

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Date Posted: Tue, May 31 2005, 2:17:38

Singapore Scams

Mar 21 2005
The New Paper - 21 Mar 2005

Retiree and wife pay S$14,000 for timeshare membership, which they find no use for
Two years later, a company offers to help them sell it for a profit, on payment of $550 fee
Eight months later, the couple are still waiting for a buyer, having rejected an offer of only $2,000 for the timeshare membership
No refund of $550 fee if the membership remains unsold, company says
By Fawziah Selamat

YOU'VE coughed out close to S$14,000 to buy a lifetime travel membership which promises you discounts on flights and accommodation in holiday destinations such as Australia and Europe,

That was two years ago. But you've since found no use for it.

So when you get a telephone call one day promising to help you sell your membership at a huge profit, you'll jump at the chance, right?

Which was precisely what retiree Salleh Salim and his wife Siti Maysara did.

That was eight months ago.

Today, they are still waiting, and wondering.

Wondering if their membership will ever be sold, and at what price.

Wondering what's going to happen to the money they've paid the company upfront to help them dispose of their holiday deal.

They are not alone.

There's been 10 other cases like theirs, says the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE).

Mr Salleh Salim and his wife said they were so happy when they got the offer from Vanasia Consultancy to help them sell their membership that they visited the firm's office in Maxwell Road the next day.

Said Madam Siti, 38: 'The place was full of other people like us who wanted to know how they could sell their travel membership. The person who attended to us was also very busy manning calls, even as she was talking to us.'

A Vanasia staff member told them the company could sell the travel membership within a few months, said Madam Siti.

From the upbeat mood around her, the housewife felt at one point the membership could even be sold for $20,000.

Vanasia's fee for the service? A sum of $550 - to be paid upfront.

The service was valid for a year, according to a contract the couple signed.

Said Madam Siti: 'We were desperate to sell and ... we jumped at the offer.'

They didn't ask what would happen if Vanasia failed to sell their membership.

Mr Salleh, 58, said he was so relieved that he 'even contemplated giving the company a cut of the sale if indeed it could make a (good) sale'.

A letter from Vanasia to Mr Salleh indicated that the company's opening sale price would be S$20,000, although that price would be subject to negotiation.

So the couple waited. And waited.

Now, eight months later, they find themselves still stuck with the membership which they had bought from timeshare company LGM Limited.

They are also poorer by another $550 which they had paid to Vanasia, which is described as a 'management consultant in the travel and timeshare industry' on its website.

With no sale so far, Vanasia's latest offer to the couple is to sell their membership for a little over S$2,000 - a loss of close to S$12,000 for Mr Salleh's original investment.

Said Mr Salleh: 'Vanasia wrote us a letter in December telling us that was the price they could get. We had been waiting a long time for a reply from the company. And after all that waiting, we received such a paltry proposal.'

Added Madam Siti, who said the couple took two years paying off the membership purchase in instalments of about $500 every month: 'That was when I began to wonder if Vanasia could indeed fulfill the promises it made.'

Two staff members of Vanasia told The New Paper on Sunday that the $550 fee paid by Mr Salleh would not be refunded even if the membership isn't sold.

Mr Salleh has, however, not asked for a refund from Vanasia so far.

He said: 'Vanasia keeps telling us that the 12-month period isn't up yet. The staff members told me I should wait till the period is over as they will be able to get higher and higher prices for my membership the longer I wait.'

'But I'm not sure if they can, judging from the service I've received from them so far.'

SALES manager Gina Gui, 36, was more than willing to suffer a loss of more than $4,000 on her timeshare membership which she had bought for $18,500.

When Vanasia offered to sell it for $14,000, she paid the company $750 for its service in November 2003.

She said: '$750 wasn't a big amount and I didn't mind paying the fee if the company could sell my timeshare.

'But, after nine months, Vanasia could only offer $1,500 for my timeshare. 'That's when I wanted a refund.'

Unlike the plan Mr Salleh had signed up for, Ms Gui claimed the plan she took up allowed for a refund. However, she has yet to get her money back.

'I was told that if Vanasia was unable to sell the membership, I would get my money back. Although, even then, I would have to pay $350 as an administration fee,' said Ms Gui.

'I was fine with that as nothing's for free. If a service has been rendered, I understand that I would have to pay for it.'

But, she claimed, so far, the company has not given the rest of her money back.

Ms Gui then lodged a complaint with CASE last December.

She is one of 10 Vanasia clients who had expected to get the original price or make a loss on what they had paid for their timeshare or travel membership.

However, they received offers amounting to only a small fraction of the original price quoted to them by Vanasia, and subsequently lodged their complaints with CASE.

CASE has since taken the matter up with Vanasia to settle the disputes.

Said CASE's executive director Seah Seng Choon in an e-mail: 'Vanasia informed consumers (after they had paid a fee for the company's resale service) that their timeshare could only be sold at 10 to 25 per cent of the original price.

'The 10 complainants told us they were not informed of this fact at the point of engaging the company's service and were not aware that they had to sell their timeshare at such a great discount.'

CASE said such omission of material information may be a breach of the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act and constitutes an unfair act.

Consumers can seek redress under the Act.

Mr Seah added Vanasia's director Cheryl Desilver, 25, had told him Vanasia was prepared to settle the matter with all the complainants.

He said: 'We're still waiting for the outcome. If the complainants are unhappy with the outcome, CASE will continue to act for them.'

Ms Gui told The New Paper on Sunday that even as she is waiting to settle her CASE with Vanasia, other timeshare resale companies have called her offering their services.

'One company even called me to say it knew about my case with Vanasia and could help sell my timeshare for me,' she said. 'I still don't know how any of the companies got my particulars and contact number in the first place.'

Madam Siti has not lodged a complaint with CASE against Vanasia.

'Mr Daran Ravin (of Global Europ) said Vanasia still has four months left to sell the membership for us under the agreement signed,' she said. 'Mr Daran said we should not be making a complaint just yet as the agreement hasn't ended. 'So I think I have to wait out the time period and see whether the company is able to sell the membership at a good price.'

The timeshare industry took top spot in terms of complaints lodged with CASE over the last 12 months.

It was responsible for 158 of the 443 complaints formally lodged and handled by CASE.

CAN'T SELL? 'That will never happen', says company
TO find out how Vanasia proposed to sell clients' membership in travel and timeshare schemes, The New Paper on Sunday went undercover. We used Mr Salleh's existing account and quizzed Vanasia staff on the company's practices.

A Vanasia customer service officer, who identified herself as Alison, attended to our call. So what does Vanasia do to sell its client's timeshare and travel membership?

'We put an advertisement of the client's membership on the window of our parent office in London,' said Ms Alison.

We were then told by her that the London company's name is Global Europe. A check revealed that a Singapore-registered company called Global Europ (Asia) Pte Ltd is the owner of Vanasia. In fact, Vanasia and Global Europ are located in the same building in Maxwell Road.

When asked how Vanasia came into possession of Mr Salleh's contact number and travel membership information Ms Alison said the particulars of people who have signed up for such membership go into a 'hypermart'. However, she could not explain what a 'hypermart' was.

We also asked LGM Limited, the timeshare company which sold the travel membership to Mr Salleh and Madam Siti, whether it had released client information to Vanasia. LGM did not reply by press time. What about the possibility of a refund then for Mr Salleh should Vanasia fail to sell his membership?

The agreement with Vanasia is valid for a year, said Ms Alison. And the company, she claimed, is confident that it can sell the membership within that time. If it doesn't, the agreement would be extended for another year at no cost to the client.

This promise was also stated in a letter written to Mr Salleh last July by Vanasia. There was no mention of a refund of the $550 fee should Vanasia fail to sell the membership. So what if the membership isn't sold after the two years are up?

'That would never happen. We (Vanasia) have never had any problems in selling off a client's membership,' claimed Ms Alison.
When asked if Mr Salleh would get a refund of the $550 if Vanasia fails to sell the membership, the answer was no. Ms Alison said Mr Salleh had signed for a plan that doesn't allow for a refund.

When we called Vanasia again and identified ourselves as reporters, its director Cheryl Desilver, 25, said Mr Salleh did not pay an additional $200 for a different plan which would have allowed for a refund.

When we asked about Global Europ, Ms Desilver said Global Europ is the parent company of Vanasia.

She added: 'London is not the only place where we advertise. We have links with offices in many countries to advertise clients' memberships.' Asked for the names of these companies, Ms Desilver declined, saying she didn't want clients to approach these companies themselves.

She explained that the $550 fee is for providing clients with advertising space on the Internet for a year. This, she added, was stated in the terms and conditions of their Resale Advertisement plan.

Ms Desilver added that Mr Salleh would have been given a login name, password and membership number to access his Internet advertisement. This information had been given to him in a letter sent by Vanasia.

When we asked how potential buyers would then be able to gain access to the advertisement, Ms Desilver declined to answer. She said a face-to-face interview should be set up where all issues pertaining to Vanasia could then be discussed.

However, the company was hard to reach soon afterwards and Mr Daran Ravin, manager of Global Europ, refused our repeated requests for an interview.

An interview with Vanasia was initially set up for Thursday afternoon at the company's office in Maxwell Road.

But Ms Desilver later changed the venue to The New Paper's office.

Meanwhile, Madam Siti informed us she had been receiving calls from Vanasia, following our calls to the company.

'Vanasia told us that we could get our money back if we stopped talking to the press. If we didn't want our money back, they (assured) us our membership could be sold,' she said on Wednesday.

Madam Siti added that Vanasia had arranged a visit to her home to discuss the proposal on Thursday afternoon - the same day and time as our planned interview with Vanasia.

Later, Madam Siti said Vanasia told her the company would take action if she continued talking to The New Paper on Sunday.

However, Ms Desilver denied that Vanasia staff members had been telling Madam Siti the company would file a suit against her.

When we arrived at Madam Siti's home in the East, only Global Europ's manager Daran Ravin was present.

A Ravindaran Kunju Raman was the initial owner of Vanasia until October 2003 when private limited company Global Europ (Asia) took over, according to a check with the Registry of Companies and Business.

Global Europ (Asia), however, lists both Mr Daran and Ms Desilver as the company's only shareholders.

Mr Daran refused our request for an interview, saying he was not prepared to answer our questions.

Madam Siti, however, was not given her money back when Mr Daran visited her. Instead, she was told the agreement they signed with Vanasia had not ended.

Said Madam Siti: 'He kept asking me why we were talking to the press and said legal action might be taken should a negative story about Vanasia come out.'

LAWYER Amolat Singh said consumers should ask certain questions before signing on the dotted line. These include:

1. How many timeshare schemes or travel memberships the company has sold?

2. How the company will sell its timeshare or travel memberships?

3. Whether the company will want exclusive rights to the membership (this affects the seller's ability to sell the membership on his own or find others to sell it for him).

4. Whether there is a time limit on the services rendered and, if so, what happens after the time limit has ended?

5. Whether there will be a refund should the company fail to sell the membership.

These questions might help people to decide whether to sign up for the resale service.

Mr Singh added that clients face an added problem should the company they've lodged complaints against be a private limited company, rather than a sole proprietorship.

'This means the people heading the company won't be personally liable even if clients can prove the company is in the wrong,' he said.

'In which case, clients may not be able to recover their losses if the company says it doesn't have the money to pay up.'

Copyright 2005 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved.

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