Office of Fair Trading
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OFT uses fake scratchcards to warn about bogus holiday clubs

OFT uses fake scratchcards to warn about bogus holiday clubs

OFFICE OF FAIR TRADING News Release issued by COI News Distribution Service. 12 November 2008

The OFT is taking part in a Europe-wide day of action today (Wednesday) to warn holidaymakers about Spanish bogus holiday clubs that cost tourists millions of pounds every year.

The OFT Scambusters Team, trading standards officers from across the UK and advisers from Consumer Direct are handing out information and fake holiday club scratchcards at airports including Belfast International, Birmingham, Bristol, East Midlands, Gatwick, Leeds/Bradford, Manchester, Newcastle and Stansted. The scratchcards, which are designed to look like those handed out by bogus holiday club touts, ask 'Have you won a luxury holiday?'.

Scratchcards given out by touts for bogus holiday clubs are all 'winners' but the prize turns out to be 'a trip to a lengthy sales presentation and a chance to pay thousands of pounds for membership to a bogus holiday club' - according to the OFT warning.

Also taking part in today's day of action are staff from the European Consumer Centre in Spain who will be at the arrivals area of Tenerife South Airport to reinforce the message about bogus holiday clubs to holidaymakers flying in. Advertisements have been placed in the baggage hall of the airport as well as in the Thomas Cook and FlyBe in-flight magazines, which will be seen by thousands of holidaymakers.

November is a peak time for bogus holiday club operators to target holidaymakers seeking some winter sun in the Canary Islands. Every year large numbers of UK consumers are tricked out of thousands of pounds at resorts across Spain such as Malaga, Marbella, Gran Canaria and Tenerife. Consumers are typically targeted by touts who hand out bogus winning cards to holidaymakers. To collect their prize they are required to attend a lengthy presentation and persuaded into signing a contract for an 'exclusive' club on the basis of false claims about the price, range and quality of holidays available.

In most cases, consumers find they have bought little more than access to an internet booking site offering the same service they could get at a travel agent for free. OFT research shows that 78 per cent of bogus holiday club victims are aged between 35 and 64. The average loss per victim is £3,030.

Holidaymakers who are approached by a scratchcard tout or who attend a presentation should consider:
* Do you have the time to sit through a lengthy sales pitch?
* Will the promises made by the salesman be in the contract and can you rely on them?
* Can you take away the contract to consider at your leisure or cancel later?
* Do you know exactly what you are getting for your money?

If the answer to any of these questions is 'no', then the OFT advises to simply walk away.

Mike Haley, OFT Director of Consumer Protection, said:
'Bogus holiday clubs ruin thousands of holidays every year leaving holidaymakers with large bills for near worthless holiday club memberships. The OFT is working hard to raise awareness of the tricks used by these scammers and to ensure that action is taken to combat the worst offenders.'

NOTES
1. Trading standards officers from Derby, Essex, Gateshead, Leicestershire, Manchester, Solihull and West Sussex will be working alongside the OFT Scambusters. Also taking part are the Northern Irish Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, Scambusters East of England, London Trading Standards South East and Consumer Direct. Officers from Birmingham, Portsmouth and Walsall trading standards will also be distributing information in their local areas. Officers from Darlington trading standards will be distributing information at Durham Tess Valley Airport (Teeside) on Thursday 13th November.

2. Representatives from enforcement bodies in Norway, Belgium and Cyprus will also be distributing information in their countries as part of a European wide joint day of action.

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