SINGAPORE - The police received about 550 reports complaining about timeshare companies in the past five years, and launched probes into half the cases.
As a result, some 11 groups of timeshare companies were investigated, Second Minister for Home Affairs S Iswaran revealed in Parliament on Wednesday.
In one case still being heard by the courts, 72 counts of cheating have been brought against the accused party, he added.
He was responding to Mr Christopher de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC), who asked if the police can take a more active role in investigating complaints against timeshare companies, instead of leaving aggrieved consumers to bring civil claims at their own cost.
Mr Iswaran explained that investigations can only be launched after the police have assessed that a criminal offence has been committed.
He added that in cases where contract conditions were breached, aggrieved consumers would have to seek recourse through civil action.
Mr Iswaran said the police take a serious view of companies "misleading or deceiving unsuspecting consumers into making sham purchases".
However, as many timeshare companies are incorporated overseas, gathering evidence about their wrongdoing can be challenging and may take a long time, he added. Masterminds of such companies have also been known to use false names to evade detection.
Mr Iswaran noted that the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act (CPFTA) was revised earlier this year to better protect consumers against errant timeshare companies.
Under the CPFTA, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) can obtain injunction orders against errant companies for unfair practices, such as making misleading claims and using pressure tactics to sell products.
The police will continue to work with Case and media partners to alert the public of any emerging timeshare scams, said Mr Iswaran.
He also urged consumers to "remain vigilant and do their due diligence", and pay attention to any "fine print and hidden costs" before signing contracts with timeshare companies.
Under new rules that came into effect in April, timeshare firms have to give consumers a five-day cancellation, or cooling-off, period before they can start collecting payments. This cooling-off period kicks in only after the company has informed consumers of key product information.
Last year, Case received 1,512 complaints about such companies, down from 1,870 in 2012, but still enough to make timeshare the seventh most complained about sector.