Friday’s Letter from America

Welcome to this weeks Letter from America, in this article which replaces the one scheduled, which we pulled once again at the last minute due to a very good response from the timeshare company, Irene Parker explains how US timeshare owners can file a complaint.

In Europe, Spain leads the way in protecting consumers of timeshare, we do understand that in the US, each state is responsible for their own laws, there seem to be no federal laws which govern the sale of timeshare. Europe has tried to unify how timeshare is sold, the unfortunate thing is that in many states the industry (with their large corporate law firms) have held sway.

Spain, which was one of the main areas where timeshare resorts were being developed, has suffered from the bad press associated with the industry. People being hijacked on the street while on holiday, bundled into taxis to endure hours of hard sell by unscrupulous sales agents. Although the blame must be on the sales and marketing companies,who paid only on results, commission only. Many start out okay, but the pressure to produce is enormous and an agent can be forced out by being given poor quality “ups” if they don’t produce.

The European Union developed a series of timeshare directives which each member state had to enact into domestic law, many have watered them down, Spain on the other hand decided that they needed to be strengthened and enacted Law 42/98.

This law came into force in January 1999, since then it has been strengthened by Law 4/12 along with the many Supreme Court rulings.

This now gives consumers more protection, no deposits within a 14 day cooling off period, no contract longer than 50 years, no points or floating weeks systems, with many other safeguards.

There are other laws which protect the consumer which are being used in the many cases coming before the courts, these include the civil consumer laws, mercantile law and by no means least, criminal law.

The way consumers are enticed to attend presentations has also been looked into, OPC’s are now regulated and licensed, unlike before. Infringements of the regulations can result in very severe penalties.

Timeshare in Europe has a very bad reputation because of the past, the original concept cannot be faulted, it is the greed around the sales that is to blame. We know this to be true due to the closing of many sales decks, with many of the sales agents now working for the “bogus” law firms and claims companies that are springing up on an almost daily basis.

Inside Timeshare is doing what it can to warn consumers of these companies, but as soon as we identify one there is another to replace it. Litigious Abogados is a great case in point, changing names every few months but the “scam” is the same.

It is only through the help of our readers that many of them are identified, as owners / members working together we will be able to protect the timeshare community.Now for this weeks Letter from America.

How to File a Timeshare Complaint (May 2018 revision)

Start with the Attorneys General Office

Timeshare Advocacy Group™

May 18, 2018

By Irene Parker

I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear. Rosa Parks

Inside Timeshare received 425 US timeshare complaints as of May 16, 2018 (238 was the number of complaints reported as of our last revision 12/15/17). An escalation in the criminal nature of member allegations, especially those voiced by 45 active duty and retired military and law enforcement, led us to the FBI (9 members of the military/law enforcement reported allegations of timeshare fraud as of 12/15). Some fear they could lose their Security Clearances due to a foreclosure on their record. Active duty military feel this is a threat to our national security as just about anyone can get hired to sell timeshare points.

Members need to be especially vigilant about “Get you out of your timeshare” firms because many are scams. Timeshare Advocacy Group™ (TAG) has a scam research team formed by members who have themselves been scammed. Contact Inside Timeshare or one of the self-help groups listed below if you are contacted by someone you don’t know offering to help you get out of a timeshare.

This US Department of Justice timeshare scam report details the extent of the problem. Based on 425 complaints, our advocates feel the front of the timeshare sale contains a comparable level of criminal activity.  

https://search.justice.gov/search?query=timeshare+scam+report&op=Search&affiliate=justice  

Timeshare developers created the criminal cottage industry of transfer and exit scams by overreliance on the oral representation clause, iron clad developer based contracts, the lack of an adequate secondary market, and ingrained deception run amuck, according to reported complaints. The vast majority of our readers are highly professional, educated citizens with credit scores around 800 who have rarely been late paying a bill. Identical complaints, directed against the same sales agent, sometimes in cooperation with a manager or vice president, can establish a pattern of complaints.

It is one thing to say I am a sinner, but let someone else say that about me and then I feel it – I am up in arms. If I am falsely accused I may suffer, whereas if correction be found on even a small reality – something in me having deserved it – then often that hurts more. We must be happy that our faults are known as they are. Mother Teresa

With no way out if the timeshare company refuses to even acknowledge the deception, hiring a lawyer or foreclosure were the only options until real consumer advocates formed Timeshare Advocacy Group™ – bridging the gap between the developer and the member harmed. At times it felt like turning the Titanic, but closing gaps on social issues never comes easy and some causes take longer than a lifetime. Rosa Parks refused to sit at the back of the bus at great peril to her safety, but Rosa reached a decision that enough was enough and action was needed. It was a small action, but one that led to great changes. Educator and activist Parker Palmer explains: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fK0dXNK94BM

Almost all members have reported their timeshare company responded to their allegations of deceit with, “Sorry, you signed a contract” or “We are not responsible for what our sales agents say.” This knee jerk dismissal is backed up by some Attorneys General, via their timeshare divisions, responding the same. Unscrupulous timeshare sales agents realize this of course, so the hamster wheel of recycled inventory never ceases beginning with “It’s not a sales presentation.” If there is still truth in advertising, change needs to begin there.   

According to the FBI and to lawyers consulted, it is not legal to hide behind fine print, but it takes volumes of complaints to raise a regulator’s eyebrow. The Federal Trade Commission released its summary report of 2017 complaints listing travel, vacation, and timeshare as one of the most costly frauds at $1,710, although complaints we have received from members range from $25,000 to $400,000 or more. We wish members were only losing $1,710.   

Travel, vacation, and timeshare frauds were the most costly with people losing a median amount of $1,710. The FTC also broke out fraud losses for members of the military and found their median fraud loss to be 44 percent higher than the general population.

https://www.jacksonsun.com/story/opinion/columnists/2018/04/06/ftc-releases-2017-complaint-statistics/493425002/

According to the FBI,

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 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.

https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/white-collar-crime

The FBI has advised our members, if the allegation involves credit card fraud, the member should also file a complaint with the Secret Service.

https://ask.metafilter.com/81136/Should-I-call-the-Secret-Service-over-credit-card-fraud

The two most common complaints reported:

  • The agent said I could easily sell my points
  • They said I could pay maintenance fees by charging purchases to a credit card, neglecting to add only about 1% of each purchase is credited to maintenance fees. Some fell for bogus maintenance fee relief programs. Already struggling, they buy more points.

How Advocacy Works

Timeshare Advocacy Group™ is organized into seven teams:

  1. Team 1 is our Reporting Team. Once the timeshare member has related their concern or grievance, the member submits their written complaint to the timeshare company. If ignored or the member receives a negative response, the complaint is forward to one of six advocates assigned to a specific regulatory or law enforcement agency. For example, Sheilah Brust is our go to person for the FBI and the Secret Service. http://insidetimeshare.com/tuesday-slot-irene-4/
  2. Team 2 is our Legislative Team. Members on this team reach out to sympathetic lawmakers to advocate for better disclosure. It would be nice to know that the timeshare you just bought for $100,000 had little or no secondary market the moment you signed the contract. TAG has received an alarming number of complaints from seniors 75 to 85 who have signed timeshare contracts for $100,000 or more. Not one of the 425 members reaching out to Inside Timeshare realized their timeshare in all likelihood could not be sold, even when costing as much as a house.
  3. Team 3 is our Military Team. We encourage anyone who has resolved their timeshare complaint as a result of our efforts to make a donation to Whistleblowers of America. WOA is a non-profit that seeks justice for active duty and veteran members of the military and government workers. WOA has supported our efforts by helping to distribute our articles. Our timeshare fraud report was presented as part of a Joint Committee on Veterans Affairs March 14, 2018.  https://whistleblowersofamerica.org/
  4.  Team 4 is our foreclosure support group. Facing cruel and relentless debt collection calls can be an overwhelming experience for anyone who has rarely been late on a bill, but for those who have recently lost a spouse the experience is devastating. Some members of this team have been through this and are determined to stay involved to fight Elder Fraud especially.
  5. Team 5 is our Scam Research team. This team consists of members who themselves have been scammed. There is a very dark side to this illegal industry. We are careful in our approach.
  6. Team 6 is our Media Team. Given state regulators backing up the timeshare company by responding, “You should not have relied on verbal representation” or “You have no proof” the Court of Public Opinion and Outcry is the only court open in some states.
  7. Team 7 is our Technology team.  We have a support staff of volunteers to assist those without access to a computer due to age, illness or disability. This team also provides YouTube production support.

Contact Inside Timeshare or email Irene Parker at [email protected] or call 270-303-7572 EST if you are interested in becoming a volunteer. Feel free to call any day of the week from 1:00 to 5:00 PM EST. It’s best to schedule a call. All calls and emails are returned within 24/48 hours.

Now it’s time to begin filling out the form. 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.

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 can change your life in an instant or a day. If your timeshare provides no secondary market, it can make a member feel a hostage to their vacation plan. It’s a good idea to contact a member of the Licensed Timeshare Resale Broker Association to find out whether your timeshare has a secondary market. http://www.licensedtimeshareresalebrokers.org/

How to File a Timeshare Complaint

Name (s) and age of member

Phone Number

State of Residence

Member Number

For each contract in dispute:

Where Purchased and Date of Purchase

Number of Points Purchased

Sales Agent and Sales Agent ID# (if available)

Purchase Price

Amount Financed and Interest Rate

Current Loan Balance

Loan Number

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. There can be no loan outstanding and maintenance fees need to be current.

Complaints expressing dissatisfaction with general availability will go unheeded as will a request based on not being able to afford the timeshare. You can’t go to your home mortgage lender and say you can’t afford it. The difference is you can sell your home. Your complaint should be filed with the FBI only if there are credible and serious allegations of deceit and bait and switch. If you feel you were deceived, list the reasons why.   

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.

After you complete your complaint, email it to the appropriate resort department or to TAG if you need help with your complaint. Expect to be denied. Typically your resort reviewer will restate your concerns, produce your initials and signatures, point out the oral representation clause and inform you, “If something was important to you, you should have asked for it to be put in the contract.” File a rebuttal if you disagree with their response.

Depending on the seriousness of your complaint, your advocate may forward your complaint to the firm’s public relations office or firm and to ARDA, the timeshare industries PAC, 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. It is the opinion of our advocates that although ARDA lobbies for the industry and for timeshare members, when the issue at stake is one that is at odds with members, members lose because they have no voice. We also forward your complaint to the Association of Vacation Owners. AVO has been tracking our complaints for research purposes. http://insidetimeshare.com/the-tuesday-slot-with-irene-3/

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. The member will report back to us if the issue is resolved. Due to the required non-disclosure or mutual release form, terms and conditions will not be discussed.

The FBI complaint website is called IC3.gov which stands for Internet Crime. This is a bit confusing. IC is the name of the portal. That doesn’t mean it has to be an internet crime. We think they should have a white collar crime option to avoid this confusion. Click IC3 as your choice when filing. https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx

Serious allegations of fraud should be reported orally by calling the FBI field office’s public access line available 24/7 (see Sheilah’s article). Sometimes your local field office will pay closer attention than say Las Vegas, where losing money is a tourist attraction. You can find your nearest field office from this website.

https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices

The next step is to file a complaint first with the Attorneys General of the state where you signed your contract and where you live. 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 account opened 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. This is the organization that helped Wells Fargo victims. The CFPB lost power after the roll back of the Dodd Frank act March 2018. The Dodd Frank act was enacted after the abuses caused by subprime lending. The CFPB is still considered a regulator. https://www.consumerfinance.gov/

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. Your advocate can help you find the agent’s ID number. Timeshare sales agents are real estate licensed in most states.

File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. The company’s BBB rating can be misleading in that the BBB only rates how efficiently a company responds to complaints. Sometimes the BBB allows you to log in and file a rebuttal.  

Most important, 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 timeshare black holes before engaging in a timeshare sales presentation.

Summary of Regulatory and Law Enforcement Agencies

  • The FBI at IC3.gov portal if you feel you were deceived by a bait and switch. For allegations of a serious nature also contact an FBI field office to file an oral tip. Have your facts and figures ready.
  • Attorneys General where you signed your contract. 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.  
  • 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 involved. Timeshare has dodged this regulatory bullet because most members don’t even know the identity of the lender as the timeshare company often services the loan. Timeshare companies are not an option from the CFPB’s drop-down menu.
  • The Federal Trade Commission
  • 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 work, it is, but you can file with some, all, or none of the agencies. We have a team of advocates who can answer questions and help guide you through the process. We feel “Action and Advocacy” is the way to change questionable timeshare business practices.  

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 who need help to Inside Timeshare or to one of the self-help groups listed below we know are not industry influenced.   

Who We Are and Why We Do This

Timeshare members contacting us are often struggling with maintenance fees and high interest rate loans. Venting on complaint sites has no effect whatsoever but an organized campaign to track complaints and report criminal activity has already born fruit in the form of Attorneys General settlements and a greater awareness.

If all else fails, we will refer to 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.

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.

  1. The abnormal becomes the normal. After receiving 425 complaints, I fear deception is endorsed and encouraged by some timeshare companies. Of course not all sales agents are dishonest. Inside Timeshare endorses Disney Vacation Club because of their scarcity of complaints.
  2. Victims are silenced and isolated via non-disclosure agreements and arbitration. Buyers should opt out of arbitration immediately after signing a contract.   

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. My solo effort has grown to a network of 44 Advocates. We are not compensated. We are 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.

https://www.facebook.com/timeshareadvocategroup/

http://tug2.net/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/DiamondResortsOwnersAdvocacy/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/180578055325962/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/465692163568779/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/1639958046252175/

May 18, 2018 Irene Parker Timeshare Advocacy GroupTM

 

That’s it for this week, the weekend once again beckons so join us again next week for more news and information on the world of timeshare.

Latest news just in from the Court of First Instance Number 3 Abona Tenerife.

The judge in a case against Diamond Resorts Tenerife Sales SL, has declared the clients contract null and void. The infringments are the points system which has been made illegal, the contract in perpetuity, when the law stipulates that it should be for a maximum of 50 years and the taking of deposits within the cooling of period, which is also illegal even by a third party.

The client will now receive a total of £44,790 which includes double the deposit illegally taken, the court also awarded legal interest.

The laws in Spain have been put into place and strengthened by the Supreme Court to protect consumers, they are having a profound affect on the industry, which for too long believed it was untouchable.


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