08 October 2014

Oral Reply to Parliamentary Question on complaints against timeshare companies by Mr S Iswaran, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office and Second Minister for Home Affairs and Trade & Industry

Question:

Mr Christopher de Souza: To ask the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs whether the Police can take on a more active role in investigating complaints against timeshare companies as criminal offences under cheating rather than leaving it to aggrieved customers to bring civil claims at their own cost.

Answer:

         When Police receive any report or complaint, they first assess whether a criminal offence has been committed. Under the Criminal Procedure Code, Police are empowered to initiate investigations only into suspected criminal offences.

2.      The number of police reports lodged against timeshare companies averaged 110 per year over the last five years. Police have initiated investigations into about half of these reported cases. This has resulted in investigations into eleven groups of timeshare companies in the past five years. In one of the cases that still in Court, the accused has been charged with 72 counts of cheating under Section 420 of the Penal Code.

3.       Police take a serious view of persons or companies misleading or deceiving unsuspecting consumers into making sham purchases. However, gathering evidence is challenging and can take a long time as many errant timeshare companies are incorporated overseas. Masterminds may also use false names to run the companies.

4.       Police will continue to work with the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) and media partners to alert the general public and potential consumers of any emerging timeshare scams. The regulations of the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA) that protect consumers against errant timeshare companies were revised earlier this year to provide consumers with greater protection and flexibility and encourage timeshare companies to review their products and services. Under the CPFTA, CASE may obtain injunction orders against errant traders for unfair practices such as misleading claims and pressure selling.

5.      On the consumers’ part, they must remain vigilant and do their due diligence before signing any contract with timeshare companies. Consumers should check for information on their obligations and their rights to cancel the contract, which timeshare companies are required to provide before any contract is signed. Attention should also be paid to the fine print and hidden costs so that an informed decision can be made. In cases involving breaches of contract conditions, aggrieved consumers will need to seek recourse through civil means.