A Portsmouth pensioner was conned into parting with more than £8,000 after she answered an unsolicited phone call offering to help her terminate an unwanted timeshare agreement.
Mary Bartlett (not her real name) bought a points-based timeshare from Spanish property Club La Costa in 2000.
The deal included holiday breaks in the club’s extensive worldwide property portfolio.
The 69-year-old mother-of-three says the family had enjoyed some really exotic holiday destinations together, then nearer to home as they got older, in the UK.
But about four years ago when they’d grown out of the experience and the children had grown up and were off her hands, Mary became concerned that what they’d originally signed up to was an in-perpetuity arrangement.
This meant that the children would automatically inherit the management of the timeshare, including annual maintenance costs which had steadily climbed to a current £1,500 a year.
Mary made tentative enquiries about disposal of the timeshare, but the market had become exhausted, leaving scores of holiday property owners in the same boat.
She thought no more of it until last March when out of the blue she received a phone call from a company called RSB Legal. They claimed they’d been very successful in enabling timeshare owners to either transfer or rescind their increasingly burdensome contracts.
Mary said: ‘The caller from RSB insisted that timeshare firms had been overcharging, and I could claim back some of my maintenance on a no-win no-fee arrangement. There was no mention at this time of money up front.
‘I went to an appointment at an office in the Basingstoke area. I was assured they had many other clients, and had been successful.
‘But then I was told what I really needed to do was to get my name off the deeds to get me out of the contract.
They could recommend a solicitor from a company called Taylor Marshall Associates, but I’d have to pay a fee.
‘I told them I didn’t have the money for legal fees but they insisted getting my name off the deeds was essential and that I’d get it back from the compensation.
‘I said I’d have to get a loan and they recommended Sainsbury’s bank, but then they said they would also want a £1,000 deposit.
‘I didn’t even have £100 in my bank account, let alone £1,000, but after getting the loan I paid RSB legal £8,154.00 in total, which included the initial £1,000.
Mary subsequently received confirmation from Taylor Marshall that they’d completed the paperwork, but when she heard nothing from the timeshare company she called in Streetwise because she was worried she may have become a victim of mis-selling cold calling holiday club cheats.
Our investigation revealed Mary’s experience had been replicated nationwide when thousands of UK timeshare owners had been called out of the blue by a telesales firm calling themselves Warwickshire Consultants.
They’d obtained confidential timeshare data from an unknown source and claimed they could help owners obtain compensation from their timeshare resort.
The Solihull firm was dissolved by Companies House in mid 2013, but before they were put out of business they also claimed to be working with RSB Legal.
We contacted the Timeshare Consumer Association (TCA), a not-for-profit company engaged in offering independent advice to timeshare owners.
They told us about a burgeoning number of claims company fraudsters who’d been prosecuted for targeting elderly timeshare owners and cheating them out of huge sums of money with promises of relinquishing their agreements.
Further enquiries revealed that RSB Legal had no legally-trained staff, but were simply a sales outfit.
They’d employed completely above board Taylor Marshall Associates to process legal paperwork, but ended up owing them thousands of pounds when payment for their legal services dried up without warning.
A check with Companies House disclosed RSB Legal’s sole director was a Tomas Boore. The firm had been gazetted to be struck off for failing to file accounts.
We tried to ring Mr Boore for an explanation of Mary’s predicament at his office in Birmingham, but he’d apparently gone to ground. The phone remained unanswered and the company website had been taken down.
To add to the gloom, the TCA revealed that Trading Standards had received numerous complaints about RSB Legal who were currently under investigation.
We got back to Mary to tell her the chances of her ever recovering her money were just about zero.
There was just no solution.
‘I wasn’t sure if they were just avoiding me,’ an angry but resigned Mary said.
‘Now I know I’ve been duped, I can’t believe how I’ve been so stupid.
‘I’m now left to pay the bank back £151.00 a month out of my pension for the next five years.’
‘I feel it my duty to warn others. I know I should tell my family but I don’t want them to know. They’d be disappointed to find out I’ve been hoodwinked out of so much money and it was my own fault.
‘I believe far more should be done to protect people from cheats and stop the cold-calling. This is how my problem started. I’ve got so many international and unavailable numbers that come through to my landline. I’m inundated with these calls.’