By Max Clarke
As part of Scams Awareness Month, the Office of Fair Trading is holding a day of action at airports in the UK and Spain to warn people about bogus holiday clubs and to inform them of their new consumer rights.
As families flock to UK airports for half term holidays, the OFT and local trading standards officers are copying the tactics used by bogus holiday club touts and handing out fake holiday club scratchcards at airports including Bristol, Dundee, Gatwick, Manchester, Newcastle, Newquay and Stansted. The OFT fake scratchcards ask 'Have you won a luxury holiday?' but when scratched warn consumers about a lengthy sales presentation and high costs for membership to a bogus holiday club.
The warning comes as consumers' rights across Europe are increased from 23 February 2011 to give people new protections if they do purchase membership to a holiday club. The new protections include:
* a 14 day cooling off period during which the buyer can withdraw from the contract without any penalty
* the seller cannot ask for, or accept, any money from the consumer during the cooling off period
* written information in the consumer's preferred language setting out information about the holiday club
* written notice of the right to cancel the contract and a cancellation form
OFT research found that every year almost 400,000 UK consumers fall victim to bogus holiday clubs at a cost of over £1 billion. Holiday clubs are marketed as a flexible alternative to timeshare, promising a lifetime of discounted luxury holidays anywhere in the world. Some are reputable businesses that trade in good faith. But others promise far more than they deliver. For instance, although membership can cost thousands of pounds, what people may be buying is purely access to a booking service such as a website or phone number.
Edward Davey, Minister for Consumer Affairs said:
'It's important that unscrupulous holiday club providers don't take advantage of people with empty promises and dodgy sales tactics. The new rules, coming into force this week, will protect consumers and mean that people will be clearer about their rights and improve their confidence in legitimate businesses.'
Michele Shambrook, Deputy Operations Manager of Consumer Direct, the OFT's consumer advice service, said:
'Our advice is to be wary of the scratchcard tout when you are on holiday. If you do go along to a presentation, ask the company three simple questions: Do you give cooling off rights? Is everything you promised in the presentation in the contract? And can I take away the contract to consider at my leisure? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then simply walk away.
'Holiday clubs that are operating legitimately will provide the legally required cooling off period and will not pressure you into making a snap decision that leaves you thousands of pounds out of pocket.'
It is not just holidaymakers who are at risk. Anyone can be approached at home by phone by someone telling them they have won a free holiday - all they have to do is attend an exclusive VIP presentation. But they are then subjected to a long high pressure sales pitch and the free holiday rarely turns out to be free by the time non-refundable administration charges, supplements and taxes are added.