How to File a Timeshare Complaint
Revised December 15, 2017
Start with the FBI if a victim of a “bait and switch”
By Irene Parker
Inside Timeshare has received 238 US timeshare complaints (135 since our last complaint form revision 9/17). An escalation in the criminal nature of allegations, especially, voiced by nine active duty and retired military, led us to the FBI. If your timeshare experience has met the FBI’s definition of white collar crime, financial institution fraud, the FBI’s appropriate guidelines are described below. I followed their recommendations after speaking with two FBI intake workers and two FBI agents over the past year. According to the FBI website,
White-collar crimes are characterized by deceit, concealment, or violation of trust and are not dependent on the application or threat of physical force or violence. The motivation behind these crimes is financial—to obtain or avoid losing money, property, or services or to secure a personal or business advantage.
These are not victimless crimes. A single scam can destroy a company, devastate families by wiping out their life savings, or cost investors billions of dollars (or even all three).
Mortgage fraud (which is the option timeshare buyers fall under) is a subcategory of financial institution fraud known as “fraud for profit”:
Fraud for profit: Those who commit this type of mortgage fraud are often industry insiders using their specialized knowledge or authority to commit or facilitate the fraud. Current investigations and widespread reporting indicate a high percentage of mortgage fraud involves collusion by industry insiders, such as bank officers, appraisers, mortgage brokers, attorneys, loan originators, and other professionals engaged in the industry. Fraud for profit aims not to secure housing, but rather to misuse the mortgage lending process to steal cash and equity from lenders or homeowners. The FBI prioritizes fraud for profit cases.
“The 3Rs or F of Timeshare” allowing the beleaguered timeshare member to put a bad decision in the rear view mirror are:
The most common complaint:
- The agent said I could sell my points
The backend of timeshare fraud has been widely reported, but there has been little attention paid to the front end. This US Department of Justice timeshare scam report details the extent of the fraudulent resale industry. Many of our Advocates feel the front of the timeshare sale contains a comparable level of criminal activity, based on 223 of our 238 complainants alleging they were victimized in a way that meets the FBI definition of financial institution fraud.
How to File a Timeshare Complaint
Name (s) and age of member
State of Residence
For each contract or for the contract in dispute:
Where Purchased and Date of Purchase
Sales Agent and Sales Agent ID# (if available)
Amount Financed and Interest Rate
Current Loan Balance
Current Maintenance Fees
Name of Credit Card (if one was used)
What do you want? Do you seek Refund or Relinquishment?
Why? Is it due to Deception, Health, Age or Financial Burden?
If your investment is $40,000 or less and you owned and used your timeshare for ten years or more consider relinquishment.
Complaints expressing dissatisfaction with general availability will go unheeded, as will a request based on not being able to afford the timeshare. The FBI complaint should be filed only if there are credible allegations of deceit and bait and switch.
MOST IMPORTANT – Purchase Timeline
It is better to state your narrative as a narrative referring back to the contracts and figures at the top of your complaint. Begin with when you first became involved with the company and proceed chronologically. Keep your history brief up to the point when things began to go wrong.
The most common allegation is bait and switch. If you feel you were deceived, list the reasons why.
How Advocacy Works
Email Inside Timeshare your complaint if you would like to talk with someone about your concerns. Before you begin, raise your right hand. Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God? It is important to present your information factually and without opinion or inflammatory language.
Consider becoming a volunteer report writer if you have reporting experience.
If you have questions about this form, email Irene Parker
Cell – 270-303-7572 EST Feel free to call any day of the week from 1:00 to 5:00 PM EST or email to schedule a call. All calls and emails are returned within 24/48 hours. If you do not receive a response to your email, please call.
Our advocates are not attorneys and we do not provide legal advice. We have researched regulatory agencies and are here to direct consumers to the appropriate regulatory and law enforcement agencies listed below. We have also developed media relationships and will continue to work with broadcast and print media to alert the general public as to what questions to ask before buying a timeshare. Life events, such as a hurricane, can change your life in an instant or a day. If your timeshare provides no secondary market, it can make a member feel hostage to their vacation plan. Contact a member of the Licensed Timeshare Resale Broker Association to find out whether your timeshare has a secondary market.
After you complete your complaint, email it to the appropriate resort department. Expect to be denied. Typically your resort reviewer will restate your concerns, produce your initials and signatures, point out the oral representation clause or inform you, “If something was important to you, you should have asked for it to be put in the contract.” They may conduct an investigation and report back that the sales agent(s) denied your claims. File a rebuttal if you disagree.
Depending on the nature of your complaint, especially complaints directed against an agent with multiple complaints on file, an Advocate may file your complaint on your behalf with the firm’s public relations office and ARDA, the timeshare lobby, for violating ARDA’s Code of Ethics. ARDA’s Code of Ethics can be found on ARDA’s website. We do not recommend owners make the voluntary opt in or opt out ARDA ROC contribution on your maintenance fee invoice for ARDA ROC (Resort Owners Coalition). ARDA is basically a PAC that lobbies for the industry when the issue is one that is at odds with members. We will also inform NTOA (National Timeshare Owners Association) and the bank that financed your loan or issued a credit card through the Consumer Protection Bureau online complaint form. By having the Advocate file on your behalf, we can track complaints, documenting patterns of criminal behavior.
Mark your email to the resort urgent if you are in financial distress. It is best to file a complaint before the debt collectors are hounding. It may take up to 30 days to hear back from the resort. If you feel you were a victim of deceit and bait and switch, give the resort a week to respond before filing regulatory complaints.
The member will report back to us with a positive or negative outcome. Due to the required non-disclosure or mutual release form, terms and conditions will not be discussed. Just report a positive outcome or resolution.
Once the resort denies your claim begin filing complaints with regulatory and law enforcement agencies beginning with the FBI if you feel you meet the definition of white-collar crime. There are three ways to report to the FBI. We recommend calling the nearest field office after filing with IC3.gov. Filing online will help you organize your thoughts.
You can find the nearest field office from this website.
The FBI assigns Financial Institution Fraud the highest priority.
The next step is to file a complaint with the Attorneys General of the state where you signed your contract, where you live and where your resort is domiciled. It can take a month or more to hear back from an AG, but once your complaint has been accepted, debt collectors are not allowed to call. You can find any Attorney General by searching the state name and Attorney General.
If there was an unauthorized credit card charge or you feel you were deceived into signing off on a loan, you should file with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under the mortgage option (even if no mortgage) and select the bank that financed your loan or issued a credit card. One common complaint is that the buyer was told they could get a lower interest rate from a bank or credit union. File with the CFPB only if there is a loan outstanding or a credit card was used.
You should file a complaint with the state Real Estate Division in the state where the agent is licensed if your complaint is against a sales agent. The Advocate can help you if you don’t know the agent ID number. Timeshare sales agents are real estate licensed in most states.
Most importantly, consider reaching out to local or national media. Reporters look for content and are surprisingly easy to reach. Write an article about your experience. The more people who come forward, the more the public is made aware of pitfalls before engaging in a timeshare sales presentation.
Our “Chicken Soup for Timeshare’s Soul” Inside Timeshare article is linked at the end of this article explaining what to expect or not expect when you file with a regulatory or law enforcement agency.
Summary of Regulatory and Law Enforcement Agencies
- The FBI at IC3.gov portal, if you feel you were deceived by a bait and switch, and then contact your nearest FBI field office to file an oral tip.
- Attorneys General where you signed, where you live and where the resort is domiciled. Most AG complaints can be filed online.
- The Real Estate Division of the state where the agent is licensed, if your complaint is against the agent. “Right-to- use” membership programs are not defined as real estate, but the agent is typically a licensed real estate agent.
- ARDA if you feel ARDA’s code of ethics has been violated.
- The media – the court of public opinion is often the only court available. Inside Timeshare, published in Spain, publishes timeshare articles online focusing primarily on the need for reform and oversight.
- The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under the mortgage option, selecting the bank that issued the travel credit card or financed your loan.
- The Federal Trade Commission – due to lack of secondary market
- The Better Business Bureau
- Lawmakers – The problem is the timeshare buyer typically does not buy in their state of residence, which is why lawmakers don’t seem to take timeshare seriously. Still, any effort to contact lawmakers is encouraged.
If this sounds like a lot of work, it is, but you can file with some, all, or none of the agencies. We feel “Action and Advocacy” is the way to change questionable timeshare business practices. Change requires volumes of complaints.
What to expect from regulatory agencies
If you are granted a positive outcome, you may not say or write anything disparaging about the resort, but there is no harm in staying involved by referring timeshare members to Inside Timeshare.
Who We Are and Why We Do This
The timeshare industry is wealthy and powerful, able to influence politicians and Attorneys General. Timeshare owners typically are struggling with maintenance fees, unorganized and alone. Venting on complaint sites has no effect whatsoever.
There are a number of timeshare members and non-timeshare member advocates working behind the scenes to assist in the complaint process. If all else fails, we will refer an attorney if the member can afford one. If you are forced into foreclosure, but have an otherwise unblemished credit report, you can write to the credit reporting agencies in an effort to explain why you were deceived and why you were not able to resolve your dispute.
After retiring from Edward Jones working as an Investment Representative, I worked three years as a CASA supervisor, writing and editing court reports for Family Court on behalf of foster children. I find two commonalities between children of abuse, neglect or dependency, and deceptive timeshare sales.
- The abnormal becomes the normal. After hearing 238 complaints, we fear deception is endorsed and encouraged by some timeshare companies. I have interviewed twelve current and former timeshare sales agents and managers. I’m told making false claims is called “pitching heat” or “No Heat, No Eat”. Of course not all sales agents are dishonest. We hear primarily from buyers seeking assistance when victimized by unscrupulous agents. Inside Timeshare endorses Disney because of their scarcity of complaints.
- Victims are silenced and isolated via non-disclosure agreements and arbitration. Encourage those considering the purchase of a timeshare to opt out of arbitration. This must be done normally within thirty days of signing the contract. Non-disclosure is appropriate in the case of a settlement, but when a family receives nothing after an alleged bait and switch, after spending $5,000 to $500,000 or more on a vacation plan, not allowing the victim to say anything disparaging about the company seems harsh. We receive many calls about this clause.
There are many who use and enjoy their timeshare. My husband and I owned three timeshares for 25 years with no problems or complaints. After we attended a pathetically aggressive sales presentation in 2015, I began researching the industry, writing articles and assisting timeshare victims. I am not compensated by anyone. Our Advocacy group is composed of volunteers. We hope there will come a day our Advocacy Group is not needed.
Self-help groups seek to provide members a way to proactively address membership concerns; to advocate for timeshare reform; to obtain greater disclosure from the company; to advocate for a viable secondary market; and to educate prospective buyers.
December 15, 2017 Irene Parker Timeshare Advocacy Group™