Bogus holiday firms con 525,000

IRISH holiday-makers have been conned out of more than 525,000 since the start of this year by bogus travel companies

Since January, the European Consumer Centre (ECC) has received 326 queries from worried consumers about holiday clubs, which coerce people into signing legally binding contracts for huge sign-up fees by promising to provide tripsto exotic locations for bargain prices, which they never deliver.

There are 75 cases being investigated by the consumers’ rights organisation relating to Irish people, more than double the number investigated last year. Most cases involve couples who have been ripped off by holiday clubs, usually while holidaying in Spain, Lanzarote or Portugal. ECC spokesperson Mary Denise Fitzgerald said the 525,000 was a conservative figure, based on a usual minimum payment per signing of around 7,000. However, she pointed out that some couples get caught for even higher amounts with one caller to the centre this week admitting to getting stung for 30,000.

“We are advising everyone to stay clear of holiday clubs. They operate outside the legislation covering timeshare holidays by using a loophole on time restrictions. Under current European law, timeshare operate for a minimum of three years. Holiday clubs usually design contracts for two years and 11 months,” she said.

Ms Fitzgerald said more than 40 people in Spain have been jailed and their offices raided in a bid to clamp down on these fraudsters. More than 40,000 contracts were retrieved from their computers. The full list of companies under investigation by authorities is on the ECC website at www.ecic.ie.

Holiday clubs are being investigated in Europe for assault, fraud, extortion, blackmail, grievous bodily harm, bribery of police officials and money laundering.

“Our advice is simple: stay away from all holiday clubs. If a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Once you sign up, the chance of getting your money back is very slim. Often it is just not there. And it can be very costly if you want to pursue these people through the courts,” Ms Fitzgerald said.

The ECC is designing a harder-hitting leaflet on timeshare and holiday clubs It plans to target travellers in airports to warn them as they board their planes. “This is happening everywhere people go on holidays,” Ms Fitzgerald said. “Our advice to anyone who has got caught is to stop paying these people any more money and contact us,” she said.

The European Consumer Centre can be contacted at 01 8090600 or info@ecic.ie

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