Sun, Oct 22, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Timeshare scam victims cry foul

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

Alleged victims of exploitative timeshare schemes yesterday showed up at the Legislative Yuan wearing black yesterday, urging the government to regulate the timeshare service market.

Timeshare is an increasingly popular type of property ownership, wherein a number of people share ownership of a vacation home, as well as its maintenance and expenses. Timeshare vacation homes are usually units built by international hotel resorts, which then entrust marketing companies with the task of soliciting buyers.

The practice has taken off in the US and Europe in the past few years, but it has proven to be a problematic option in Taiwan as it has been exploited by illegal marketers.

Raquel Wu, a student, said yesterday that she learned about the timeshare plan of Shanghai Sun Island International Club when she was approached by its service personnel on the street.

Invited to attend the company's seminar introducing the plan, Wu said she was pressured to sign a contract after listening to a "five-hour tirade from a salesperson."

The salesperson told her that the contract would allow her to pay the entire sum in installments. Unbeknownst to Wu, her personal information was apparently used by the company to apply for a loan application on her behalf. The bank then gave the money to the company, and she now has to pay the bank rather than the company.

And while Wu has been paying for the plan, she hasn't had a chance to use it. Nor could she swap it with a different resort plan.

"I feel cheated," she told the Taipei Times.

Wu, along with other alleged victims made her appeal at a press conference hosted by Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator Chiu Chuang-chin (邱創進) and DPP Taipei City Councilor Chou Wei-you (周威佑).

Officials from the tourism bureau, the Ministry of Justice and the taxation agency were also invited to the conference.

Chiu said there were approximately 10 companies in Taiwan selling timeshare plans for overseas vacation resorts, which have attracted some 60,000 buyers.

While some companies are legal service providers, a majority of them use the timeshare plan to accumulate illegal gains, Chiu said.

Chiu said that disputes arising from timeshare programs began appearing in 1999, but laws have yet to be in place to regulate these marketing firms.

Chou said his assistants first received a petition from a dissatisfied customer in March. After holding a press conference to help him, Chiu's office was inundated with calls from people who have suffered the same plight. He realized then that it was not an isolated case but rather a collective scam.

Many of these illegal marketing companies changed their names once their schemes were exposed, making it difficult to trace the suspects, Chiu said.

"The country lacks regulations to protect consumer rights," Chou said. "It would be unfair to legal operators if we continue to ignore it [the problem], and it would eventually hurt the development of an emerging industry as well."

Chien Yi-horng (簡義鴻), deputy director of hotel, travel and training division of the tourism bureau, said it would release a sample contract for timeshare plans next week.

When asked if any measure had been taken to assist the victims, Chien said that the government follows the model used to help "credit card slaves," where negotiations could be held between banks and these consumers.

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