Summer scamwatch: holiday club fraud
Stay one step ahead of the fraudsters this summer with our series of articles on the scams they use to trick holidaymakers out of their hard-earned cash.
This week, holiday clubs that promise free trips and great deals but fail to deliver.
How does it work?
Holiday club fraud can take place in the UK or abroad, and often starts with you being told you have won a "free" holiday.
You might, for example, be called out of the blue and told you've won a holiday prize draw, or be stopped on the street while on holiday and given a scratch card with which you win your "free" trip.
Either way, in order to claim your prize, you will generally be asked to attend a presentation to learn more about a new travel venture.
Once at the presentation, you will be plied with champagne (or other alcoholic drinks) and offered membership to an exclusive holiday club that gives you access to special deals at top-class accommodation all over the world.
Then you'll be told that you have to sign up to the club to receive your "free" holiday, which will generally involve you forking out for the flights and other add-ons.
You will then be asked to sign a contract there and then, often in return for a "special offer" that runs out at the end of the day. Do so, and you are likely to end up feeling cheated by the lack of deals available.
Even legitimate holiday clubs are often unable to guarantee any dates or destinations, and will charge you annual fees whether you use them or not.
How can I avoid being caught out?
You should always be very wary of letters, phone calls or emails offering you free holidays out of the blue, as well as of holiday club reps who approach you in the street while you are away.
If you do attend a presentation, meanwhile, remember that you can leave at any time - even if the sales staff try to pressure you into staying until the end.
Other tips to protect yourself from this type of fraud include ensuring that you get all verbal promises in writing, reading the contract small print before signing and refusing to sign up on the day.
Reputable companies should allow you to take the contract away and sign it later if you want to go ahead. They should also be able to give you written details of your cancellation rights.
I've been defrauded. What should I do?
If you are caught out by a fraudulent holiday club, you should report it immediately to Action Fraud (0300 123 2040) so that action can be taken to prevent other people being taken in.
If you change your mind within 14 days, you can also try to claim your money back under the Timeshare Regulations.
However, if this is not possible or you leave it for longer than two weeks, your only option to recoup your money will be to pay a lawyer to take on your case.
More Scamwatch article on AOL Money
How to avoid holiday fraud
Avoid phishing scams