I won’t be surprised if you’ve not heard of timeshare scams before, but I guess you should be grateful that you stumbled across this article, because a timeshare scam is so subtle, you won’t even know you’ve been scammed.
Now, this is a much more complex scam, because you can’t technically call it a scam. You’re willingly buying a “vacation package” that you most likely won’t go, usually under pressure, so the issue of legitimateness comes into play: is it a scam, or simply a sales pitch that works?
Here’s what timeshare is all about: you buy the rights to use or own a resort or hotel or simply a condo unit overseas for a period of time. So basically, you pay in advance for a hotel stay in a particular country, usually at a price that is below the market rate.
Sometimes, the package you buy isn’t the rights to stay in the hotel or resort, but the rights to book the stay there at a highly discounted price, say up to 50%. Or even airline tickets at a discount.
Sounds pretty innocent, eh?
Well, it isn’t. Firstly, the package isn’t for just a few days—you buy a membership instead of a package. With that membership, which can go all the way to $100,000, you could get up to 50% off the list price of several resorts and airlines for say, ten years.
Okay, a little not-so-innocent now, but still, legit, right? No one forces you to join.
Now, here’s the part that pisses off people: yes, people do “force” the membership to you, and it’s not conventional. Here’s how you get pressured to buying the membership that you might never ever need to use in your lifetime.
Let’s say you’re walking along Orchard Road when a young guy approaches you for a survey, in which you’ll be entitled to a lucky draw after that. Okay, so you decide to do the poor guy a favour and do the survey. One of the questions, innocently enough, asks for the range of your salary.
If you tick the “$2,500 & below”, then you’ll get a lucky draw card that says, “Try harder next time!” and the young guy will DGAF to you.
But if you tick anything else, which means you earn more than $2,500 a month, then you’ll definitely win a prize—because the young guy has been instructed to give different cards to different types of people.
Once you win the prize, be it a voucher or whatever that is irresistible, the young guy would look so surprised that you’ll really believe that you’ve won the prize. He’ll then tell you to redeem your prize from their office—and you being the kiasu guy, you’ll follow him all the way to his office, which is conveniently within walking distance.
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When you’re in the elegant office, you’ll be told that you need to listen to something as they prepare your prize. Everyone in the office will go apeshit and shake your hand, because you’ve just got the top prize (meh, everyone got it).
But that’s when the line between legitimateness and scam blurs: the staff will start to sell their membership to you. Knowing that you earn more than $2,500, their usual tactic is to leverage on your ego, saying things like, “You don’t even have $10,000?”
The hard-sell will persist, and their focus is on your emotions instead of your needs. In a group of people, you’ll be pressured to buy the membership (which, if you think about it, is pretty useful…if you go for vacations very often). “No” will not be countered by a counter-offer, but yet another insult to your financial status.
Sometimes, people will be planted there to pretend as if the membership is so damn good that they buy it on the spot. These people will look successful, and they’ll also play on your emotions by looking down on you.
In other words, you’ll buy not because you need it: you might buy because everyone else in the room is making you feel like a loser.
Now, it doesn’t end here.
During the period of your membership, you might be told to pay maintenance fees for the property you “own” overseas. It’s unknown what will happen if you don’t pay them, but most people will do so as they’re just a few hundred dollars a year (remember, the company knows that you’ve got a high monthly salary).
Eventually, whether you say buy or not, you’ll still get the lucky draw prize, but it’s usually a useless one: for example, it could be $1,000 voucher for an online stop in China that requires you to spend at least $10,000.
But if you think about it, you’re essentially making the choice consciously to buy the membership—there’re hard-sell tactics and psychological games, but it’s a willing transaction between two parties.
Of course, not all companies use this sale tactic. There might be timeshare companies that sell their membership though conventional ways, without resorting to fake lucky draw wins or an insult to your financial status.
So, next time, if you win something (according to my latest research, they’ve started calling up people instead of doing street surveys), remember this: If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
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