The police received about 550 reports complaining about timeshare companies in the past five years.

Half of these were probed and 11 groups of timeshare companies were investigated, said Second Minister for Home Affairs S Iswaran.

Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Christopher de Souza, who had met elderly residents affected by timeshare companies, questioned if the police can take a more active role in investigating these firms.

He asked if they could be treated as criminal offences under cheating rather than leaving it to the customers to bring civil claims at their own cost.

In response, Mr Iswaran said the police can initiate investigations only into suspected criminal offences, and they have to first assess if a criminal offence was committed when they receive a report or complaint.

Gathering evidence is challenging and can take a long time as many errant timeshare companies are incorporated overseas. Masterminds may also use false names to run the companies, he added.