|El Pais, The luxury vacation scam|
Brussels investigates thousands of complaints from EU citizens against Spanish holiday clubs – Companies deceive customers with a system similar to timeshare.
LILA PÉREZ GIL Madrid – JUL 19, 2007 – 23:00 GMT + 1
Fake dream holidays in a castle in Scotland, breaks on an island paradise or guaranteed annual stays at a luxury resort on the Costa del Sol. This is what companies known as discount holiday clubs promise in exchange for about 15,000 euros. They rip off individuals who end up spending the summer in unheated apartments in northern Europe or in student flats. The European Commission investigates these Spanish companies about which it receives thousands of complaints a year from EU citizens. Brussels will reform the regulations that allow this type of deception.
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These fraudulent vacation clubs use a deception system similar to that used for timeshares. Ana and Rosa, 40 and 31 years old, thought they were going to take the vacation of a lifetime and were disappointed and spent many euros “for nothing.” Their names are false because their families do not know that they are a couple. They got married last September in Barcelona.
His nightmare began in November 2003, with a phone call for a survey. “Two weeks later they called us to offer us a free trip, a succulent bait”, says Ana, “and to go we only had to go to a place one day at a certain time”. “The tables were small; the capacity was large. Each couple was seated separately,” Ana continues. We were members of this club, Estrella Dorada Mediterranees, “he continues. “They wouldn’t let us talk to each other, or look at the clock.”
As Ana and Rosa were still undecided, the aggressiveness of the bidders increased. “It was four hours in a row. They didn’t let us go out for a coffee because we lost the gift. In the end,” she explains, “mentally stunned and tired, they got us an offer for a vacation in castles, and they caught me there. It was like Our honeymoon gift in advance. Rosa was fine with it. “
It was time to talk about money. “They told us that it was like getting into a gym, that we could try it out and then unsubscribe, the trial period was one year. That convinced us more. Then we signed some papers with a man, of which we were not left with any copies.”
They did not know it, but they had 10 days to repent, in which the bidding company was prohibited by law from asking them for any advance. Just 12 days later, the same man showed them to a notary’s office. “If we didn’t want to sign, he threatened to charge us a 1,000 euro bill that I didn’t remember signing,” Ana says, her voice still shaking. The pressure continued on the notary. Result: they signed a loan worth more than 15,000 euros with Caixa Galicia.
“When I left I was dizzy, saying what I have done, but we decided to go on the gift trip and try two vacation periods with them, to see how it was,” continues Ana. Well, bad, because when they asked for a Scottish castle in Edinburgh, they found them A place in an unheated apartment on the outskirts of Glasgow, and when they wanted to go to another castle in Austria, they ended up in “a seedy student apartment” on the outskirts of Vienna.
Hartas, Ana and Rosa contacted the Association of People Affected by Timeshare Acama, based in Marbella, and the matter ended up in court. “These women signed a floating system with Mediteranees Consulting Inmobiliario,” says their lawyer, Damián Vázquez, from Acama. “This company was later called Club Estrella Dorada, La Estrella, Estela Dorada, because these companies are born and disappear, they change their name,” he continues. In this case, the trial, which was held in February in the 44th court of first instance of Barcelona, ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, but the bank has appealed and they have to continue paying until there is a firm resolution.
The timeshare as such no longer exists. It is not legal to use this term when talking about a system of use by turns of a tourist property. This has been the case since a law in 1998 put order in a sector that gave many headaches to consumers and legal entrepreneurs. Now, timeshare is regulated. But there are always gaps, and that is what some take advantage of to create this new concept of so-called discount holiday clubs. They use aggressive marketing tactics , with meetings in which they are dedicated to cajoling the future client, who sometimes falls and signs anything for a cheap vacation in luxurious places that then disappear, the earth swallows companies with those who signed the contracts.
At the beginning of June, the European Commission proposed a reform of the regulations in force since 1994, in view of the numerous irregularities that have occurred in this field. In 2006, 2,256 complaints for this type of product were registered throughout the EU, 188 in Spain, according to the European Commissioner for Consumer Affairs, Meglena Kuneva. Many of the claims in other countries refer to offers on Spanish soil, especially in the Canary Islands and Andalusia.
365 euros per month
Eva M.ª Torres Criado, a 32-year-old from Madrid, a beautician in forced unemployment after an injury that has left her with a 70% disability, has not yet reported. But after having toured the municipal offices of Rivas-Vaciamadrid and Madrid, he only has to file a lawsuit. She and her husband, José Angel Martínez García, 34, head of transportation in a private company, have to pay 365 euros per month – from a loan with another bank – for a “luxury vacation that is later in places that They are disgusting”.
They suffered the same four-hour meeting in February 2005 “with the music blasting so you can’t even think,” Eva recalls. The same pressures, the passage through the notary, where they signed letters for a total of 17,000 euros for an annual stay of one week in a luxury complex on the Costa del Sol. The company that captured them in 2005, Datum Proyectos, which before it was called the Atlas Complex, it no longer exists. The type of apartment to which they are entitled or its complete description does not appear in the contract. “At the moment we do nothing but pay for nothing,” they lament.