Singapore's consumer watchdog has flagged a firm for allegedly falsely claiming that it can help timeshare investors get back their money.
From January 2015 to June this year, the Consumer Association of Singapore (Case) received 20 complaints about Icon Solutions, which describes itself as a marketing firm.
The complaints alleged that Icon Solutions cold-called potential investors and offered unregulated financial services to those who had bought timeshare products, said Case.
"They were told that they would be able to recover their monies previously paid to different timeshare companies if they invested in the company's schemes," Case said in a post on its website last Tuesday.
It urged consumers "not to use the services of Icon Solutions or to sign any agreement or pay any money to the companies it designates for settlement".
Over the years, there have been at least seven other firms with similar modus operandi, said Case, adding that these firms tend to share investors' data, such as contact numbers, with one another.
Case told The Straits Times that not all the complainants had paid Icon Solutions, but those who did had spent as much as $32,000 without recovering any money.
20 The number of complaints about Icon Solutions that Case received from January 2015 to June this year.
In that particular case, the consumer said Icon Solutions contacted him to say that it was acting on behalf of the International Timeshare Refund Action (Itra) - an unaccredited entity, though he was not aware of this - and it could help him recover the money he had paid for a timeshare deal.
At a subsequent meeting, instead of how to recover his money, the talk turned towards investing. Five hours later, the consumer, feeling pressured, signed an agreement and paid $32,000.
Case noted that since last October, Icon Solutions and Itra have been on the Monetary Authority of Singapore's (MAS) Investor Alert List, a non-exhaustive list of unregulated entities that may have been wrongly perceived to be licensed or authorised by MAS.
Investors who sign agreements with such entities lack the protection afforded under the laws administered by MAS, said Case.
Icon Solutions set up its Singapore office two years ago and has offices in Hong Kong, Britain and the United States.
The firm's sales director Marc Reven, taking issue with the complaints, said the firm does not do timeshare recovery or offer financial services beyond introducing consumers to MAS-regulated experts.
He said Icon "possesses a formal introductory agreement with a Singaporean insurance company to provide a wider array of discounted services which include financial planning and management of all kinds". Any inquiries regarding financial planning will be handled by MAS-licensed personnel, he added.
Mr Reven also objected to what Case characterised as a complaint, noting that Case had never forwarded a complaint to the firm, nor had any consumer made a direct complaint to it.
"Icon asked Case to clarify if anybody had ever complained about losing money or being treated unjustly or in any non-compliant manner. Case duly informed us that they could not confirm complaints of any such nature."
He said Case told him it held a wide definition of the word "complaint". For instance, he claimed some consumers asked Case if a one-week cooling-off period was proper procedure, and Case had reached out to the firm for an answer.
"Case then confirmed that if they communicate with us in such a manner, they do consider in their definition that to be a 'complaint'," said Mr Reven. Asked to clarify, Case told ST it is considered a complaint when an individual "contacts Case with a dispute or negative feedback against a business".
It advised consumers with unresolved disputes with Icon Solutions to contact Case on 6100-0315 or via its website www.case.org.sg.