Dubai: It starts innocently enough with an invite for mall-goers to fill up a form for a “free” draw.

A subsequent call tells those who signed that they just won a holiday. To claim the prize, however, they need to visit them for a 90-minute presentation.

Before they know it, many find themselves falling prey to a hard-to-resist sales pitch and agreeing to invest in a time-share package.

Many customers told XPRESS the alleged scam is being peddled by Vacation International to UAE residents with promises of guaranteed returns.

The key issues involve deceptive sales techniques and refunds.

Amir, a Jordanian teacher, recalls how he was holed up inside Vacation International’s Deira office in a five-hour “presentation” from 7pm to midnight in May. In the end, he coughed up Dh21,000 for a week-long timeshare deal. He claimed the company staff charged his credit card even before he signed the contract.

Sales pitch

“They put a lot of pressure on people during those sales meetings. They brought out the contract, and while I was still reading the fine print, they charged my card already,” said Amir. When he tried to use the house booked in Egypt, Amir found out from another website that the unit does not even cost Dh300 ($81) for a group of six for a week. “They promised that the unit can be rented out for $2,000 to $3,000 per week. I felt scammed,” said Amir.

Harish Chander, 45, an Indian hotel executive, has been trying to claim his refund since 2008 from the company. “They promised me a week’s free stay in a property in Zahabia Resort, in Hurghada, Egypt, which I could sell or rent out to anyone.”

He paid Dh11,450 for a contract worth Dh26,000. “I was paying happily till I lost my job in December 2008,” he said. “They told me they would help me sell my weeks. I was told I could withdraw anytime. This is the point that got me.”

When Chander asked for a refund, he was told it’s only possible if he paid in full.

Nitesh R., who signed his contract in May 2012, gave a laundry list of what he alleged as deceitful selling. “During the seminar, I was informed I would be able to rent my week the very night I pay my deposit. This, I found out, was not true. Six months down the line, I have not received any services for the 50 per cent deposit (Dh15,950) I have put down,” said Nitesh, who threatened legal action.

Sri Prakash, an Indian project manager, filed a fraud case in Dubai Court against Vacation International in August 2011, two months after having invested Dh18,000. “During the first hearing on October 22, 2012, no one from the company showed up.” The next hearing is on November 19. “What they do is fraudulent, taking money from so many people for nothing. I’ve been here for the last 20 years. I respect the good law and order. I value this country, but companies like Vacation International should not be allowed to dupe victims here.”

Joshi, an Indian finance manager, invested Dh14,550 in September 2011 and said he knows at least a dozen people who had been allegedly duped. “When I tried to get to get my money back, they told me that I can’t.”

A Vacation International spokesperson told XPRESS “Any client who has an issue with us, we get back to them and discuss their problem. We have well-trained staff to help customers according to the contract terms.

“[For] any business in the world, there will be clients who get a wrong understanding [of the business]. We work under Dubai laws. In almost all our contracts, it shows that we are doing travel and timeshares. We never mention this as an investment.

“When a client signs a contract, he is aware of the terms and conditions… nobody forces anyone to buy what he doesn’t like.”

“From our 15,000 members, there may be 20 or 25 who misunderstand the system, but it doesn’t mean we are so bad. We built a reputation for 16 years and we will keep on working like this because our reputation is our capital.”