Time-share rackets swindle consumers out of millions

Is it possible to sell a dream, and at a bargain price to boot? A good salesperson can. A good salesperson can sell a dream to anyone: pensioners, businessmen, scientists or bank managers. The dream in this case is that for a few thousand euros, these people can purchase their dream holidays and live in the lap of luxury a few weeks a year for decades. The result has become an acute social problem: One million Greeks are believed to have been swindled by time-sharing companies that sell million-euro holiday deals for peanuts. According to the managing director of the international time-sharing company RCI, D. Manikis, «The marketing strategies used by these companies are aggressive. You don’t buy the product. They sell it to you…» The term «aggressive marketing» translates into fraud where salespeople pitch a dream just to get a signature on the dotted line. After signing, thousands of naive consumers sink into a financial nightmare that in some cases even leads to the seizure of their property. The tactic these companies use to approach potential victims is based on surprise and deception. Someone from the company calls and says that the victim/customer has won a free holiday. The holiday will take place as long as the person comes by the company offices to get all the necessary information. The victim goes by the office and a one-hour briefing turns into a four-hour deluge of seductive information on dream holidays. Once seduced, customers hand over their identity cards and credit cards and sign a contract – without knowing what they are really signing, without an attorney or notary present, without any legal procedure. Then they leave. When the customers discover the deception, the people in charge at the company are unavailable on the phone and communication is put off for 10 days, the period during which customers are, by law, allowed to cancel the agreement. After the 10-day period, the people in charge show up and tell the customers that there is nothing they can do to cancel the agreement. From each customer, the company makes an average of 2,200-30,000 euros – depending on which ruse it used – without having sold anything at all. Some customers turn to the law for help and sue, but even if they win, they will not be compensated. According to the vice president of consumer watchdog EKPOIZO – who is in charge of such cases – P. Kalapotharakou, «We’ve had, up to now, two guilty verdicts against such companies. But consumers can’t get their money back, because these are companies with no assets. So, what can the customer claim? The office chairs?»

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