Recently, Police Co-op attended to some cases involving our members, who had been scammed of their life savings after being persuaded to sign up for apartment ownership schemes. One of the members decided to share his experience, so that others could learn from his painful and very costly lesson.

Mr John Tan* (not his real name) was spending a leisurely Sunday with his wife and two young kids strolling around Orchard Road in March 2002, when they were approached by a street surveyor. They thought that it was just a normal survey, like so many others they had passed by earlier along the street and wanted to decline participating. But the surveyor offered them a chance to dip into a lucky draw box. John took the lucky dip and was told he had won a 3 days 2 nights accommodation package to Penang, Malaysia with no conditions attached. Ecstatically, they followed the surveyor back to her office at Ngee Ann City to collect their “prize”.

At the office, an executive spoke to John and his family, the executive told the family about an exciting promotion the company was currently having. It was a vacation club membership by company ABC which was giving away the free accommodation. For S$10,888, John and his wife would be able to engage the ABC’s services for the next ten years. Services would include one-stop travelling arrangements for the family and cheaper accommodation at their desired vacation locations. After a brief discussion with his wife, John signed up for the membership. Both of them felt that it would be a good way to save money on travel expenses and time they would otherwise spend on scouring around for good travel packages.

John and his wife went back to ABC the next day to complete the payment for the membership, and the executive did more hard sell. This time, he enticed the couple with a vacation ownership rights contract that would make them the partial owner of a two-bedroom penthouse property at the Gold Coast, Australia for the next 99 years. The two of them, along with 4 other guests, would be entitled to occupy and utilise the facilities at the property for one week every odd year for the price of only S$19,500.

John’s predicament began soon after. He realized that not only did he have to pay a maintenance fee of a few hundred Australian dollars twice in a year, the fees would increase tremendously as the years went by. Two years after he signed the contract, a salesperson from ABC called him up and told him that due to some complications, John would have to exchange his membership and pay an additional S$12,000 for the exchange fee . Otherwise, the membership would be terminated. Although John started to feel that something was amiss, he went ahead to exchange his membership as he did not want to waste the money he had already spent with ABC.

His plans of having overseas holidays never materialized due to a lack of funds, and he began to feel that he was spending unnecessarily on the upkeep of the unused property at the Gold Coast. He started to do research on co-ownerships of vacation home, and it finally dawned on him. He had purchased a time-share scheme. The more he researched about the scheme, the more frustrated and cheated he felt. John made up his mind to terminate his membership with ABC, and to sell the co-owned property back to the company.

When John stated his intention to sell the property with ABC, the salesperson told him flatly that the company was not licensed to do any transfers or sales of properties they had sold. John was referred to another company specialized in doing sales and transfers of timeshare schemes. John paid S$10,000 and took on the services of the recommended company. However, not long after, John was unable to contact the company. . He then took on the services of a second company recommended by ABC and paid another S$10,000, but his attempts to transfer or sell his co-ownership of the property were unsuccessful.

More research showed that the two companies recommended by ABC were actually affiliated to ABC. John had clearly been cheated of a copious sum of money. He decided to seek legal redress through the Small Claims Tribunal. He filed a claim on the two companies he engaged to sell and transfer the Gold Coast property, and was awarded S$10,000 from each company. He also filed a claim on ABC, but this was disallowed by the Tribunal as it was not their jurisdiction to terminate legally binding contracts. Although John had been awarded S$20,000, he was unable to get the companies to pay him the awarded amount. He also had to continue to meet the financial obligations of the 99-year contract. John and his wife were devastated. Their entire life savings had been depleted and the fact that they might leave a negative legacy to their children haunted them. There seemed to be no light at the end of the tunnel.

In 2010, ABC called John up and offered to terminate his membership and contract, and to transfer the ownership of the property to an unknown individual. The catch was that John would have to pay a termination penalty of S$66,000. Anxious to end the ordeal, he agreed to the terms. The sum of money was eventually raised by borrowing from the couple’s friends, relatives and parents, and they finally managed to sever the contractual ties with ABC.

Although John and his wife were deeply relieved that they had got themselves out of the timeshare scheme, they now faced financial difficulties. They had to take loans from banks in order to pay back their friends and relatives. They also relied heavily on credit facilities for their monthly expenses. Their debts quickly snowballed due to the high loan interest rates. To make matters worse, John was investigated for financial embarrassment in a random credit check conducted by his department. John now had unsecured debts of more than S$52,000 which is more than three months of his income. He would have to face potential disciplinary action.. To take responsibility for his actions, John tendered his resignation from the career that he had been in for the past 27 years.

In view of his loyalty and outstanding work throughout his career, his supervisor advised him to seek the assistance of Police Co-op to clear his outstanding loan, and at the same time rejected his resignation. John was not a member of Police Co-op then, but decided to approach the Co-op for help after attending a talk by its staff and learning of how Police Co-op would be able to offer assistance to officers in dire financial needs. After fulfilling his obligatory dues as a member, a loan of S$46,000 was granted to him. The loan not only helped him out of financial embarrassment at work, but also stabilised his rocky marriage due to monetary woes.

In his own words: “We have made a grave mistake, and paid dearly for being too trusting and easily influenced by offers too good to resist. If it is too good to be true, it probably isn’t.”

In total, John and his wife spent more than S$120,000 financing the maintenance of a property which they had never stepped foot on, a vacation dream that never materialised. Over the period of a decade, it drained them of their life savings, got them into financial trouble and almost cost John his job of 27 years and his marriage.

Here are some general key points to consider before committing yourself to a large purchase or long-term financial obligation:

    1. Always take note of the fine prints in contracts. These are usually what the salesperson fails to discuss with you while bombarding you with the attractive deals.
    2. Discuss in depth with your family before committing. One of the sales tactics often used is the phrase: “The promotion is valid for today only”. The salesperson does not want to give you additional time to consider for a reason, which is usually not in your favour. Walk away and think about it. Chances are, you will not return once you have done some careful calculations.
    3. Divulging too much of your personal information or preference. A salesperson is constantly trying to get to know you better in the span of time you are conversing with him. He will customize his pitch to hit all your soft spots! Now you know why all the products always seem to be relevant and useful to you.
    4. Can you really afford it in the long run? What if you lose your job or have other financial obligations which are more important after a few years?
    5. Can you terminate this contract prematurely? Will there be a termination penalty or legal implications if you terminate it?

For a private and confidential consultation of how Police Co-op may offer assistance to help you with your financial woes, please call us at 6334 8055. Alternatively, you may email us at enquiry@policecoop.org.sg or drop by our office at 250 Sims Ave, SPCS Building, #04-01, Singapore 387513.