RDO’s Enforcement Programme
One of RDO’s main priorities is to help protect owners targeted by fraudulent businesses; these companies have become more and more prevalent and are causing owners to lose considerable sums of money. Notwithstanding, such activities also damage the reputation of the industry and have a direct negative impact on the business of RDO members. These fraudulent businesses come in many guises – making promises connected to timeshare relinquishments, legal claims and discounted holidays for life. The great majority are simply criminals. They use the internet and cold calling through stolen data to trap the unwary. They are clever – using misinformation and useless guarantees to lure their victims in.
Given the serious nature of the situation, in 2013 RDO established its enforcement programme through the Timeshare Task Force to tackle fraud affecting timeshare owners, other consumers and the industry as a whole.
Its first step was to engage KwikChex, an investigations, verification and resolutions services business, to operate the programme on its behalf. KwikChex coordinates and manages the Task Force initiative and works extensively with law enforcement agencies, government departments and consumer organisations, gathering intelligence on businesses where potential breaches of law may have occurred and sharing this with the appropriate law enforcement agencies across Europe. It also provides free assistance to consumers who have concerns over any matters involving timeshare and related products. KwikChex’s service, funded by RDO and EUROC, has been vetted and approved by UK Trading Standards and is run autonomously on a day-to-day basis.
The Task Force initiatives include identifying the perpetrators – many of which are serial offenders – and where appropriate, supporting and preparing prosecutions. In the most serious cases, information is passed to law enforcement agencies such as the UK National Fraud Intelligence Bureau; its exceptional experience and expertise in coordinating cross border investigations are essential in tackling those that operate in several different countries.
Through a coordinated effort, the Task Force has succeeded in making life very difficult for those that have targeted the timeshare sector – every website, every advertisement run on Google, every cold call is like to result in an investigation, sophisticated tracing and criminal charges. Every time a fraudster contacts a timeshare owner or consumer, they will be running the risk of talking not to a potential victim – but a private investigator or law enforcement officer. In June 2019, this work was recognised by the UK Trading Standards community, when KwikChex was presented with a Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) ‘Hero Award’.
And in addition to the major cases involving the police, the Task Force has used private criminal prosecutions to ease the burden on the authorities and speed the process of apprehending the perpetrators.
The Task Force’s in-depth reports have not only been helpful to the police and other enforcement bodies in closing down fraudulent companies, but have also helped RDO’s members gain a better understanding of the companies that are targeting their owners.
The main tasks of the Enforcement Programme are to:
- Analyse and process information of alleged fraudulent nature.
- Ensure that any information that identifies unlawful practices is forwarded to the appropriate enforcement agencies and particular senior officers and authorities.
- Identify and maintain a network of contacts within these enforcement agencies and authorities to ensure effective cooperation.
- Educate third party stakeholders to help them to understand the need to continue targeting bogus practices that damage the industry´s image and organic growth.
- Educate consumers about how to avoid fraudulent practices.
The enforcement programme has been extremely successful and has been instrumental in helping protect the reputation of the industry and safeguard holidaymakers. Since the programme was set up, a number of rogue companies have been shut down and individuals involved charged and convicted in court. Some have been sentenced to jail.
In February 2020, the Task Force reported that the law is now catching up with those involved in ‘Leisure Credits’ and bogus holiday club scams, with arrests, prison sentences and heavy financial penalties taking place. For more information on successful actions, go to https://timesharetaskforce.org/2020/02/20/the-clampdown/