How Timeshare Scams Have Evolved in Singapore

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lady swimming in hotel pool overlooking buildings

Timeshare scams in Singapore ask you to pay a lot of money to book holiday accommodations at a lower price. Here’s how they’ve changed over the years.

These days, most people know to run screaming when they hear the words “timeshare” in Singapore. The bad news is, timeshare companies possess the resilience and cunning of cockroaches and have proven almost impossible to exterminate.

Here are some of the ways many timeshare companies have evolved to scam you.

Scamming You a Second Time By Pretending to Help with the First Scam

Timeshare has a bad reputation, and a lot of people have been scammed. In light of that, it’s hard to find more victims right?

Wrong. Timeshare scammers have a long list of people they’ve suckered, and many now count on suckering them again. Since everyone complains about their wasted timeshare money, these companies now rebrand themselves as “recovery” services. They typically offer solutions such as:

  • Promising to “buy over” your timeshare, thus getting you the money back (but at the same time, they will encourage you to fork out a bit more cash and convert it into new “investment”)
  • Claiming they will get the money back for you, but that there are small fees to cover first (they will then bleed you of “legal and administrative fees”, ranging from several hundred to several thousand dollars, over the course of months or years)
  • Claiming they will do their best to get the money back for you, but then diverting the conversation to financial prudence (and scamming you into buying questionable “savings” products).

Note that the companies which do these are either former timeshare companies, or closely related to them. That’s how they know who to call. They have a list of people their timeshare associates (or even their previous company) already scammed.

They can even create fake email exchanges and documents to “prove” they’re fighting on your behalf, all the while collaborating with your former scammers.

Calling Themselves Something Other Than a Timeshare

Many timeshare scammers no longer use the word “timeshare”. This isn’t just because the word has become off-putting. There is now a law that requires a “cooling down” period, in which you can opt out of a timeshare scheme.

You can usually pull out of any timeshare within the first month of signing up, if you haven’t used any services.

However, by using another name – such as a holiday club – scammers can evade this requirement. It’s the same way some schemes use the term “funding” rather than “investment” (funding doesn’t have to be regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, but investments do).

Regardless, the concept is the same: you are being asked to pay a large sum of money, in order to have a vacation spot you can frequent for cheaper. Whenever you hear this deal, be aware that it’s a timeshare scam in disguise.

Pretending to Be a High-Paying Job Offer

Some timeshare scammers pose as legitimate “travel companies”, and even use job ads as a way to find victims. They put out online ads – or sometimes even buy space in newspapers – offering amazing sums like S$15,000 a month or S$35,000 for a manager or some sort. You may see other fancy titles, like Director or Vice President.

When you show up for the interview, they will explain that the pay is based on quotas or commissions. You can also “recruit” your own staff to train, and get a cut of their commissions. If that sounds a lot like a Multi-Level Marketing (MLM) scheme, that’s because it is.

Even worse, they typically try and corner you to “buy the product yourself”, to show you “believe in the company”. As interviews tend to be one-on-one situations, or even three-on-one, they can exert a lot of high-pressure sales tactics.

If you run into these people, be sure to walk out of the room quickly. Don’t worry about being polite.

The “Free If…” Trap

Some timeshare scammers use free gifts as a trap, but not in the way that you imagine. The gifts are not simply there to entice you, but bind you.

For example, you may be offered a lavish gift like a discounted flight ticket to see the resort location, or perhaps a top-of-the-line Macbook. This is all given to you at the start, you just need to “register” for a trial.

But once you land at your destination or take your pricey gimmick, you’ll be asked to sign up for the full package. And if you don’t, they’ll point out the “registration” you signed is a contract. If you don’t buy the full package – which is often at least S$5,000 – you’ll have to pay the full cost of the gimmicks you received.

They’ll point out that you already signed off that you acknowledged this (unless you were lucky enough to spot it in the fine print in the form).

You’ll often be met with statements like “You’re already here”, or “It’s not worth it to leave”, to pressure you to buy the timeshare. And if you can’t afford the money right away, they may have different financing options at outrageous interest rates.

Remember, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. No one pays half your flight ticket or gives you a free laptop just to try out their service.

Offering Conditional Resale

Be wary when you’re told the timeshare will “always allow you to sell your share back, even if there are no willing buyers”.

With most timeshares, in order to cash out, you need to find someone else to buy over your portion (effectively turning you into a scammer). As this is a well-known flaw in the timeshare, scammers have found a way to turn it around.

They will allow you to sell back your share to them at any time, but with certain conditions. These include:

  • Only a limited number of people can resell their share every year, and it’s on a first-come, first-serve basis. Whenever you want to sell, you can’t because the quota is up for that year.
  • You can only sell after a certain number of years (say five years), and only at the original price you bought it for. By then, the scammer would have taken your money and gambled on their own investments with it.
  • When you want to sell, you are charged fees that were “subsidised” for you. For example, the scammers may claim that they “subsidised” S$10,000 in hotel fees for you during your last two vacations, and deduct it from the amount they pay you (in some cases, this will come to a negative, and you have to pay to leave).

Just Don’t Buy It

Timeshares have a nasty reputation all over the world. They’re an unregulated industry, and they make you commit large sums of money with no tangible gain.

If you feel you’re being pressured to buy one, just get up and leave. It’s not worth years of legal issues and financial losses just to enjoy a few weeks in a nice hotel. Besides, you can save money on hotels around the world if you pay for your trip with some of the best travel credit cards in Singapore. As long as you pay your bill on time, a credit card can help you save more money on flights and accommodations than a scammy timeshare ever could.

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By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.