Following an investigation by the National Trading Standards Regional Investigation Team Central England, Dominic O’Reilly (55) of Costa Adeje, Tenerife was sentenced to a total of 28 months imprisonment and his step-daughter, Stephanie O’Reilly (30) of Dickens Heath, Solihull was sentenced to a total of 18 months imprisonment, suspended for 2 years, for their part in a timeshare ‘leisure credit’ scam.
Dominic O’Reilly was the CEO of ‘Eze Group’ and Stephanie O’Reilly, the managing director of Eze Europe Ltd, one of the companies trading under the Eze Group umbrella
The court heard evidence relating to 36 victims who had paid out nearly £205,000 to Eze on contracts valued at over £422,000. However, within the paperwork seized by Trading Standards were files relating to over 100 further complainants who had been sold contract worth approximately £1.3m and papers indicated that there were many thousands of consumers in total who had signed up to the Eze Group.
The sentencing, at Birmingham Crown Court, followed their earlier guilty pleas to two overarching offences relating to a failure to act with professional diligence and for using aggressive commercial practices, offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
Between 2014 and 2017 the pair managed ‘Eze Group’, a brand name for the interconnected business that included Eze Europe Ltd, Regency Shores S.L (registered in Spain), Everywhere Travel Ltd, Dreamland Breaks, Timeshare Information Centre (TIC) and Timeshare Advice Bureau (TAB). These businesses were deliberately set up to make them appear independent from one another but, in reality, all of these organisations were designed to play their part to coerce individuals to attend a presentation run by Eze Europe Ltd.
Eze Group businesses would invite consumers, typically existing timeshare owners, on a free mini-break, which included a presentation given by Eze staff. These presentations lasted for up to eight hours and used aggressive and highly manipulative sales tactics to encourage customers to sign up for services they did not want or need. The presentations made false claims that existing timeshares would last in perpetuity and that huge debts would be passed onto their children unless consumers signed up to Eze services. Many consumers reported that they felt trapped at the venue and therefore signed up to Eze services because they felt that it was the only way to be able to leave and return to their hotel.
Consumers believed that they could simply cancel the agreement afterwards, however the company tried to avoid offering customers cancellation rights. This was despite being advised by Trading Standards on numerous occasions from late 2014 onwards that cancellation rights applied.
Enforcement action was taken in April 2016 by the National Trading Standards Regional Investigations Team supported by officers from Warwickshire Trading Standards. Complaints continued to be received from consumers about the sales practices being used until 2018, by which time the group was only operating in Spain.
In addition to the sentences, they were both banned from becoming company directors, Dominic O’Reilly for 9 years and Stephanie O’Reilly for 6 years.
A Proceeds of Crime Act timetable has now been set to try to recover money from the O’Reilly’s and associated companies.
In sentencing the defendants, HHJ Creed said that the pair had used ‘oppressive, aggressive and highly manipulative sales practices’ and that the victims had been ‘bullied and frightened’ causing them ‘enormous distress and anxiety’. He further stated that the pair had gone to ‘considerable efforts to circumvent regulations designed to protect consumers’ and that there were many consumers affected over and above those on the indictment. Of real concern to the court was the fact that the practices had continued after Trading Standards had got involved and interviewed Stephanie O’Reilly.
Lord Toby Harris, Chair of National Trading Standards said:
“The directors of Eze Group Ltd used extremely pressurising and intimidating tactics and false claims to pursue money from victims, and then wrongly denied them the right to cancel these services. Today’s judgement should serve as a warning to others that such aggressive and misleading selling tactics will not be tolerated.”
“I would urge anyone who feels they may have been victim to a scam like this to call the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06.”
Advance fee scam targeting Eze Group customers
National Trading Standards Regional Investigations Team has become aware that some Eze Group customers have been targeted with an ‘advance fee fraud’. Customers receive a call from an individual informing them that they can get the money back that they lost to Eze Group. The customer is then asked for a small payment of around £1,000 for ‘legal fees’ or ‘taxes’.
Customers should be advised that this is a scam and are encouraged to report any calls of this nature to Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 04 05 06.
Notes to Editors
For more information about this case contact the Regional Investigations Team office on 0121 464 5668.
For more general enquiries regarding the National Trading Standards Board please call 020 7025 7570 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notes to editors
About the National Trading Standards Board
- The National Trading Standards Board is a group of senior and experienced local government heads of trading standards, representing all trading standards services across England and Wales. The Board has been set up by the Government as part of changes to the consumer protection landscape and an enhanced role for trading standards.
The National Trading Standards Board provides leadership influence, support and resources to help combat consumer and business detriment locally, regionally and nationally.
- The National Trading Standards Board funds the Scambuster Teams that target rogue trading, doorstep crime and scams, providing support across England and Wales through eight regionally based teams:
1.Central England Trading Standards Authorities (CEnTSA)
2.North East Trading Standards Authorities (NETSA)
3.Trading Standards East Midlands (TSEM)
4.Trading Standards North West (TSNW)
5.Tri Region Scambusters (TRS), on behalf of Trading Standards South East Ltd (TSSEL), East of England Trading Standards Association (EETSA) and London Trading Standards Association (LoTSA)
6.Trading Standards Partnership South West (SWERCOTS)
7.Yorkshire and Humber Trading Standards Group (YAHTSG) and
8.Wales Heads of Trading Standards (WHoTS)
There are separate arrangements in place in Scotland.