NEWS

Late-night sales pitch clinches deal, then clients find calls to cancel contract won’t go through

«What the consumer later claimed happened is diametrically opposed to the terms of the contracts,» says Kalapotharakou. «While the the main thing is that the consumers don’t agree to go to the offices because they want to become involved in time-sharing holidays. They go because they are tempted by the idea that they have won a free holiday and they will be given a presentation. That is why the court issues verdicts of deception and fraud. «Furthermore, the companies tell consumers that they will pay in several installments, while the contract clearly states that the payments will be made in just one or two installments. When, moreover, the payment is made by credit card, banks guarantee the amount without having the consumer’s signature on a credit form. And this happens even though there has been a decision by the Supreme Court, after a group suit by EKPOIZO, that condemns banks for this practice.» Kalapotharakou further notes: «When consumers get wind of the deception within the legal time limit and wish to back out of the contract, they have to send the form stating their intentions to the company via a court official and not by registered post. Otherwise, the process is invalid. Also, banks stop charging credit cards only after an order by the companies. To this date, no single company has given such an order.» What degree of truth is there in the rumor that some of these companies have even seized people’s homes? «When a consumer fails to pay the amount – to which he/she has put their signature – before the deadline, the company has the right to enforce its claim through the courts by turning the contract into an enforceable instrument. This means that the contract is supported by an irreversible court decision and the company can seize any assets – liquid or otherwise,» explains Kalapotharakou. The sting G. Vladikas used to work in the time-sharing racket, initially as a salesman and later as a financial director. At one point, he decided to leave the company he was working for and testify to the fraud being committed against hundreds of thousands of consumers around the country. The racket would not leave him alone. They made threatening phone calls, they wrecked the store he opened three times, and so on. «We would have 40-50 couples in the office each afternoon,» he testifies. «Of these, 30 percent would sign a contract. The others wouldn’t sign because they didn’t have the money. Multiply this number by seven working days a week and by 23 such offices, and you can understand the magnitude of what was going on… First of all, the salesperson would befriend the customer. He or she would learn all about his/her family situation and finances. Then, the salesperson would strike at the customer’s weak spot: holidays, suggesting a break from all the customer’s money troubles. We all experience capitalism, but few can really taste it. This is what a good salesperson banks on. He sells just what the other person desires, but can’t have. He tells him that with 5 drachmas, he can live the dream. It is very easy to manipulate people… «Bringing up the subject of money is very well timed: In the last phase of the presentation, when the customer no longer knows which way is up and which is down, when he is tired and it is late at night. That is when the financial director appears. He convinces the customer that the whole package will cost him a few installments of ‘just a few cents.’ He gets his signature. «That’s where the trouble starts. First of all, I don’t know how legal it is to sign contracts at 1 or 2 a.m. Second of all, employees pose as notaries and sign on behalf of a real notary. If one were to compare the signatures on the contracts, one would see that there are different signatures under the same name. The notaries’ union would see the hoax if it just did a simple signature check. «When I became a financial adviser, I realized that many people were trying to reach me on the phone, but [the office] was not putting them through to me. And they were doing it on purpose, so that the 10-day period of grace could pass and the contract be made valid. Also, the financial adviser says that, besides the cost of the time-share, there is also a small charge for his own services and for a contribution to RCI, the exchange company. At the end of each calendar year, the customer gets a time-sharing bill from the hotel for 350-500 euros. And if the hotel complex is abroad, the bill is two or three times as much. When the customer does not pay the annual fee, the entire agreement is lost and the company sells it again. «This is exactly how these companies work. They sell the same agreement over and over again. And each time they ensnare the customer so that each of them pays. When some naive customer starts complaining, [the company] knows that they don’t want the agreement any more and they sell it to someone else the same day.» Time-sharing abroad «The purchase of time-shares abroad is a huge problem,» admits Vladikas. «They’ll tell you: ‘Take a week in Ibiza and you’ll be able to trade it for a week in New York.’ They tell you that they have an agreement with 10 hotels in New York. But how many rooms do they have in each hotel? They may have just 10 rooms in total, so customers never actually get to go to New York. The usual excuse in this case is: ‘I have a room, but it’s taken.’ I also wonder about RCI. It has all these hotels listed in its brochures. But, how does it meet the demands of millions of consumers? Also, a consumer buys a time-share for 30 or 60 years. Who, though, can guarantee that the agreement signed between the hotel and the company will be in effect for more than a few years? How then, can a customer be assured of 30 or 60 years?» Vladikas continues: «Of the 23 companies listed, not a single one is not breaking the law. Organized crime is behind this.» On this issue, it is obvious to ask what role RCI, an internationally recognized company, plays in all this. Manikis claims that RCI has taken the issue to court and no longer does business with the 23 companies in question. Vladikas, on the other hand, has a different opinion: «What do you mean they don’t accept the contracts? There are plenty of contracts around with these companies, bearing RCI’s signature – and RCI doesn’t know it? I mean, its phones ring off the hook with customers from these companies who want to make exchanges. And RCI says, ‘I can’t send you where you want to go.’ It doesn’t say, ‘I don’t have any business with GVC,’ for example. It does not reject GVC, a company against which hundreds of lawsuits are pending.» Vladikas concludes: «When I got sick of the whole thing and decided to leave, I went to the labor inspector and IKA [the social security fund], but all the doors were closed. No one showed any interest in what I had to say. And I published it. The point is what the government is going to do. Will it tuck its tail between its legs again and they’ll get off with a couple of fines? Or will it shut them down?»