Welcome to this week’s Letter from America, today we publish another “Nightmare on Timeshare Street”, this is the experience of the Cameron family and their dealing with Westgate. But as usual we bring you some news from Europe.
We start with the headlines in La Provincia published on 18 October 2018
Grupo Anfi denuncia a Santiago Santana Cazorla por “apropiarse” de un barco
La compañía acusa al empresario de sustraer la embarcación y llevársela a Marruecos
Grupo Anfi denounces Santiago Santana Cazorla for “appropriating” a ship
The company accuses the businessman of stealing the boat and taking it to Morocco
It centers around Santiago Santana Cazorla“appropriating” a boat which the Anfi Group claims belongs to the company, of which Cazorla owns 50%, as the boat was included in the register of assets of the company until around 1 year ago, when Cazorla decided to transfer it to his name.
The Court of Instruction No1 of San Bartolomé de Tirajana, heard in testimony from Cazorla (17 October 2018), that he purchased the boat in 2012, he transferred the ownership of the vessel to Anfi Group“as part of the payment to forgive a debt”, however, he changed his mind and about the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017, began procedures to transfer the vessel back to his name.
In his testimony Cazorla assured the court that the vessel was his, something Anfi Group does not agree with, no agreement was reached.
One thing is for sure, we are never short of a story with Anfi!
Seeing other Westgate owners talk about their experiences has prompted me to do the same, in the hope that more people will come forward to put pressure on timeshare companies and regulators to take a closer look at timeshare sales practices we feel are unfair and deceptive.
It is obvious that Westgate, and I believe timeshare in general, has a recipe for success, designed to keep their money rolling in and my money rolling out.
I think I have figured out the secret ingredients!
Step 1: Over promise features and benefits. Add copious amounts of salt with one or two grains of truth.
Step 2: Make them your BFF. Then tenderize customer by forcefully kneading them with one sales pitch after another until they are flattened and easy to manipulate.
Step 3: Quickly gloss over the contract with a nice coating of sugar. Make sure to cover up the actual details of what the customer is buying so that they remain in the dark until much too late for them to cancel their contract. They call this the rescission period and it is quite easy for timeshare sales agents to dodge.
Step 4: Serve on a dirty plate with a fork. I call this plate foreclosure when the buyer finds out you bought something you can’t sell. What product is out there you can’t get rid of?
Step 3: When the customer realizes they have been served a steaming pile of something or other, pretend to be very concerned and run back to the kitchen and hide for months and months. The customer can listen to commercials about why you are happy to have invested in their timeshare while they wait on hold.
Step 5: Finally, when the customer is starting to cause a scene, have the monosyllabic thugs, Greenspoon Marder, eject them from the premises.
The Tennessee AG will be sitting at the next table, pretending like nothing happened while he tucks into his gourmet meal, although I did research and found out the TN AG helped Festiva victims recover $3.5 million.
I understand that the consumer needs to take charge here. If there are not enough complaints, as must be the case with Westgate, nothing will happen. I also learned the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau investigated Westgate for two years but dropped the investigation shortly after the presidential election.
That’s Westgate owner David Siegel, King of Versailles next to candidate Trump.
Here’s what happened to us
Salesmen, Jonathan Smith, and Mario Pineda (Manager) sold us a timeshare in July 2016 and convinced us that we were making a good, sound financial decision.
They said we were buying something that would:
Financially benefit us,
Allow us to make money renting our weeks and that they would help with this free of charge,
They said we would never have to pay the HOA fees because the rentals would pay for that,
They said we would hold a deed to the property and would own this property (Bldg 2041, Villa 302H and 302I). They left out the part that if you want to sell it nobody wants it,
It would be a great tax write off,
The equity would keep increasing.
Given all these benefits we signed the contract in good faith, thinking that we would get everything Westgate told us we would get and we would see some return on our “investment” which turned out to be anything but an investment. The reality is that we have not made a penny on this investment. None of the reasons for which we bought this timeshare exist.
While they may define this as real estate, what kind of real estate is worth nothing, except in disaster stricken zones? It is certainly not a tax write-off, it does not gain in value and it would therefore be stupid to pass it on to our family. We would only be passing on a liability.
On top of all this, our experiences at Westgate locations have been awful. We went to a Westgate property to enjoy time together as a family and wind down. Instead we were pressured to buy more and had our precious vacation time stolen.
The first time we went to Gatlinburg we booked a 3-day trip. We were invited to a presentation. They said it would last 90 minutes but we were held hostage for seven hours! This totally ruined our vacation, plus the loss of what little time we had was the cause of much stress.
All this stress came right back when we had our first full week stay and they tried to do and say anything to get us to upgrade to a more expensive unit and more weeks. They held us again for four hours. The stress of this again completely ruined my vacation.
It was after this last stay I started to have heart pain. When I went to the doctor he said it was stress related. This is when it really hit me that I can’t keep going through the stress of Westgate’s high pressure to buy more and more Westgate. My wife and I work very hard. We don’t get to take many vacations together, so do not enjoy spending our vacation in a bad mood after it feels like we underwent CIA manipulation techniques. Plus, we can’t afford to go through this again.
What Westgate is serving up is no good. We suggest you dine elsewhere.
The Queen of Versailles wants to be Florida’s Governor?
Thank you to the Camerons for sharing their timeshare story. It is our hope that timeshare companies will read some of these accounts and think about ways to improve customer relations. We encourage members to submit articles, good or bad experiences, but the satisfied customer is less likely to reach out. They are having too much fun vacationing with a product they bought explained properly, compared to the family who feels they were duped.
These self-help websites and Facebooks are resources and provide a way for members to reach out to help other members.
We 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.
So that is another week over and the start of the weekend, join us again next week and remember to do your homework before engaging with any company. If you are not sure then use our contact page and we will point you in the right direction.
Welcome to Friday’s Letter from America, the last one for 2017, this week Irene looks at the past year from across “The Great Lake”, while we look at the past year in Europe.
Our first article of 2017 was about the family of fake lawyers from Tenerife, Litigious Abogados, it highlighted a new firm called Abogacia Española, which happens to be the name of the official website to check the validity of lawyers registrations. This was a very good move on the part of this well planned out fraud, as it did give an air of legitimacy when you did a web search.
Since then, we have seen many incarnations of this fake law firm, although the names have changed, one thing hasn’t, that is the nature of the fraud. They are still duping consumers into believing that they have a case at court, then to be part of it you need to pay the Procurator fees. That is only the start, it get even more sophisticated. Search Litigious Abogados for the full story.
While we are on the subject of Silverpoint, It was announced in April that Silverpoint were withdrawing their membership to the RDO, (Resorts Development Organisation) and would no longer be selling timeshare. Hence the product Keys Concierge, which does not appear to fall into the realms of timeshare laws.
This was a great blow to the RDO, as Mark Cushway was not only a director, but Silverpoint was also a major contributor. Funds this organisation could ill afford to lose. It has since come to our attention that the RDO is to form a partnership with ARDA (American Resorts Development Association). This particular organisation is well endowed with contributions and is very strong in the world of lobbying for its members. So it begs the question is the RDO going to be taking on board the tactics of ARDA?
Staying on the subject of Silverpoint, January was a momentous time on the legal front, with the Supreme Court making their first ruling against this company. This was the case of Mrs Shirley Wilson and her long battle against the selling tactics of Silverpoint.
Within a week the highest court in Spain ruled three times against Silverpoint, opening the doors for many more cases against them. Since then the rulings have been coming in thick and fast, leaving no doubt that what they had been selling was illegal.
February brought the news that Alberto Garcia had “stepped down” from Mindtimeshare and that the RDO would not be renewing the contract with that “Consumer Association”. Alberto Garcia for many years had been running the RDO’s“Enforcement Programme”, attacking any company which threatened the timeshare industry. This has now been given to Kwikchex and the “Timeshare Taskforce”, run by Chris Emmins.
Throughout the year, Inside Timeshare has been following the Anfi “Tauro Beach Project”, this has been a story that has now seen the former head of the Coastal Authority being charged with falsifying official documents and wrong doing in public office. No doubt we will see his trial sometime in the new year.
This project was to build a man made beach at Tauro, with the building of hotels and a shopping center. This was given to Anfi to run for 50 years, the Government of Gran Canaria is now seeking in the courts to remove these concessions in the light of the evidence of malpractice. This story is not over yet.
Anfi have been on the receiving end of many Supreme Court rulings since March 2015, they however have continued to deny any wrongdoing and inform their members that they have not lost any cases. In fact they have embarked on a campaign to attack Canarian Legal Alliance, trying to sow seeds of doubt among their clients. Below is a link to a video showing the National Spanish TV news on TVE 1, in this clip, one of the CLA lawyers explains the Supreme Court rulings. For the National Television to broadcast this item shows that CLA is doing what they say and that Anfi is trying to divert attention from this.
Another story we have been following is that of Los Clavelesin Tenerife and the battle for control of the resort. Again this is an ongoing story which at present seems to be dragging on. It revolves around the selling of Wimpen to ONA Grup, who were the managing company of this resort. Their contract has been ended but they still seem to be trying to run the resort against the wishes of the Owners Committee.
There has been a lot of argument on this issue, with some very nasty consequences, it is clear that this issue is not going to be resolved in the near future. It may also end up being a rather costly one with only the lawyers benefiting.
In July we published a rather different article on the timeshare world, this was a positive one, featuring a company that we have not been able to find any adverse comments or complaints. It is off course Disney.
This is a shining example of how the timeshare industry should operate, fair, truthful and with the consumer in mind. There again, it is what we expect from an organisation which prides itself on putting people first.
After a long reign TATOC finally went into liquidation, with Harry Taylor and TATOC being totally discredited. For years this organisation has duped not only timeshare owners but also organisations such as Citizens Advice Bureau. Any owner that went to CAB with a problem would be recommended TATOC as the place to go. Little did CAB know that this organisation was funded and basically run by the industry. All we can say is good riddance to a very bad and foul smelling egg!
There have been so many articles it is difficult to review them all, but Inside Timeshare has highlighted some of the most dodgy companies that have emerged over the course of the year. These articles have saved many readers considerable sums of money, we intend to continue with this.
But before we go on with Irene’s roundup of the year from the US, we finish with the news of yet three more sentences issued by the courts. On 27 December the Court of First Instance in Maspalomas declared yet another Anfi contract null and void with the client being awarded over 29,000€ plus legal interest.
On the same day the High Court in Tenerife announced another ruling against Silverpoint, with the contract being declared null and void and the client in this case being awarded over £9,000 plus legal interest.
There then followed on the 28 December another Supreme Court ruling from Madrid, this was number 82! Again the company was Silverpoint, with the contract being declared null and void and an award of over £23,000 plus legal fees and legal interest.
These cases were brought on behalf of clients of Canarian Legal Alliance, so this does show this law firm is doing what they say.
Now for the year from a US perspective.
What Timeshare Members Can Look Forward to in 2018 and what
I wrote looking forward to 2017 on December 26, 2016
Our Advocacy Group did not have a name one year ago, or a Facebook page. Our advocacy Facebook page was launched February 2017 and Timeshare Advocacy Group™ April 2017. As I write this, our advocacy Facebook page has 706 members. We encourage industry observers, as long as they are respectful.
Back in February, I remember scrolling down my Facebook feed, a pianist, waiting with nervous flute, oboe, trumpet, and bassoon middle school students for our competitions to begin, when I suddenly saw a post called “Diamond Resorts Owners Advocacy” launched by an economics professor. This Facebook page was launched in response to a draft article I had written and distributed, requested by a few former timeshare sales agents who felt the practice of “pitching heat” to sell vacation points needed to be addressed and brought to the attention of the general public. Based on reader responses, only Disney Vacation Club seems to disavow this sordid selling technique.
Our professor also prepared this mission statement for our DRI advocacy group, but as our Inside Timeshare readers started to reach out to us asking for help with timeshare issues concerning other timeshare companies, I borrowed our DRI mission statement and generalized it to apply to all timeshare companies.
We seek to provide timeshare members and owners 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.
April 2017, a former Diamond sales agent contacted me, urging me to write a press release as she was worried Diamond members were not aware of the Arizona Attorney General’s $800,000 DRI settlement and the Assurance of Discontinuance announced December 23, 2016. There was a May deadline to file a complaint.
This former timeshare sales agent said we needed a Facebook page so that readers had somewhere to respond. I didn’t even know how to use Facebook until I got mad at timeshare July 2015, but I struggled through the establishment of a Timeshare Advocacy Group™ page, delighted to find a butterfly with a “Knowledge Speaks, but Wisdom Listens” quote by Jimi Hendrix. My first concert I attended in high school was Jimi Hendrix, second row, in front of the mic.
I expected my new creation to last for a month or two, until the press release ran its course, but it continues to receive views. We consider this Timeshare Advocacy Group™ Facebook a clearinghouse of articles written about all timeshare companies and are grateful to all our volunteer admins for both Facebook pages.
Now a look back to what I wrote December 26, 2016 with updates
Timeshare Lawsuits 2017
By Irene Parker, December 26, 2016
Our Inside Timeshare mission is to offer timeshare owners accurate reporting on both the good and bad aspects of timeshare today. While we admit we bear more to the negative side of timeshare reporting, this thirteen page report from the US Department of Justice listing timeshare scams explains why:
The other reason is because the industry is not well regulated. Timeshare owners do not have the level of organization or funds necessary to compete with timeshare developer lobbyists. Lobbyists used to primarily direct their efforts towards influencing lawmakers, but more and more efforts are now being directed towards influencing US Attorneys General:
Looking to 2017, we need to look back and reflect on timeshare’s unresolved and continuing legal battles. Timeshare developers, former timeshare sales agents and solicitors, timeshare owners, federal and state regulators and advocates continue to weigh in on possible changes that will make timesharing more owner friendly and less predatory.
Will the final piece of this legal and regulatory puzzle result in a less aggressive and deceptive industry – or will practices continue unabated and unchecked resulting in more of the same?
WestgateUpdate 12/29/17: After the presidential election the CFPB dropped the Westgate investigation. President Trump is close friends with the Siegels, Westgate owner David Siegelwas seen campaigning next to the candidate in 2016. That’s Mr. Siegel to the left of Trump. Charles Thomas reported on the timeshare the Trump family is launching in Scotland, reported as a golf course in the US during the campaign.
“Westgate is facing lawsuits in several jurisdictions and a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Investigation. Allegations include fraudulent and deceptive business practices ranging from high pressure sales tactics, failure to honor timely rescission requests, elder abuse, illegal debt collection practices and impermissible telephone solicitations.” The Capitol Forum June 27, 2016
Former Wyndham sales agent Trish Williams was awarded $20 million for exposing deceptive sales practices. While the amount will probably be reduced on appeal, it sends a message that courts and juries are listening.
The Manhattan Club Update: Remarkably, New York AG Eric Schneidermanmanaged to ban the owners of The Manhattan Club from working in the timeshare industry and achieved a $6.5 million settlement. Rarely is wrongdoing admitted. However, attorney Douglas Wasser, representing TMC owners, said “Hundreds of members will be helped, but there are over 14,000 members.” Even a settlement this size will do little to curtail predatory marketing and sales practices. The investigation took years.
Back in 2016
Attorney Douglas Wasser represents 30 Manhattan Club defendants.
“To my knowledge there has been no dismissal of any Manhattan Club proceeding at this point. The NY Attorney General investigation is proceeding, and the motion to dismiss a currently pending class action suit has been adjourned to January 5, 2017 for now. Three prior class action suits at the Manhattan Club have been dismissed. But, at least for the time being, the current class action still survives,” Mr. Wasser reported November 15. 2016
Marriott Vacation Club Racketeering Update: Most disturbing of all, political and legislative maneuvering in Florida resulted in a change in the definition of timeshare, seemingly in an attempt to circumvent the merit of the case, according to attorneys involved with the case. That was not the end of it. We will hear more about this case in 2018.
“The Marriott racketeering lawsuit seeks to abolish Marriott’s points program, which attorney said is unique among timeshare companies. It also seeks the return of fees and costs paid by buyers.”Paul Brinkmann reported October 13, 2016 for the The Orlando Sentinel.
Diamond Resorts Update:A judge ruled in favor of arbitration in the billion dollar lawsuit filed against the company, and Congress reversed the CFPB ruling that would allow class actions. Diamond Resorts is one of the only timeshare companies to have a class action ban in their contract, forcing arbitration. Arbitration is binding and private. Lawsuits filed are public record.
A recent class action was filed against Diamond Resorts:
Matt Daniel Finazzo, et al. v. Diamond Resorts International Club Inc., Case No. 5:16-cv-02256, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
I don’t mean to be the Grinchess that stole Christmas, so to end on a positive note,
People are listening!
Charles Thomas and I are hearing from people all over the world who are joining forces to work towards:
⦁ A legitimate secondary market
⦁ Less aggressive and deceptive selling
⦁ Less predatory lending
Thank you from timeshare owners to our regulators and lawyers working to protect us. Since last year we have found a few more self-help groups we are confident are on the side of the timeshare member and are not industry influenced.
So that is 2017 in a nutshell, if this coming year is anything like the last we will be seeing many more stories like these.
Inside Timeshare thanks all those who have contributed to the articles and also to all the readers and those who have contacted Inside Timeshare for help and advice. If you require any information on any company that has contacted you or you may be thinking of using but need to know about them, contact Inside Timeshare and we will point you in the right direction.
We wish you a prosperous New Year, enjoy your celebrations and we will be with you in 2018.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Director Richard Cordray recently announced his resignation. Timeshare members not familiar with the CFPB may remember 3.4 million Wells Fargo customers receiving restitution from unauthorized credit card accounts being opened that allowed Wells Fargo representatives to meet incentive targets. CFPB conducted that investigation.
Timeshare today seems as polarized as Democrats vs the GOP. Given the corporate driven political climate in Washington DC, it is unlikely Cordray’s replacement will bolster the agency’s power or recourse for timeshare consumers.
Timeshare members have not benefitted from the CFPB like the Wells Fargo victims. The opening of an unauthorized credit card is annoying, but probably not financially devastating. The majority of our 209 Inside Timeshare readers, reaching out to us for advice, are often financially devastated by their decision to purchase a timeshare or continuing to own one. The perpetual contract, accompanied by rising maintenance fees and little or no secondary market can spell disaster, especially if sold by deceit.
Still, timeshare members appreciate the CFPB’s interest in hearing timeshare complaints. The CFPB did initiate a Westgate timeshare investigation that lasted two years, only to be dropped after the 2016 presidential election. Call me suspicious, but seeing Westgate owner David Siegel pictured left of Mr. Trump on the stump during the campaign, while the Trump organization simultaneously launched a timeshare in Scotland, seems beyond coincidental.
Former Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum’s name was mentioned in the Politico article linked above as a possible Cordray replacement. Given Florida’s current legislative and timeshare enforcement climate, timeshare members have little to cheer should a former or current Florida elected official be named director. In our opinion, Ms. Bondi has done little to address deceit on the front end of the timeshare sale. As Inside Timeshare previously reported, the Florida Timeshare Division only acted on 110 out of 2,360 timeshare complaints received from April 2014 to April 2016.
Despite AG settlements that seem mere financial speed bumps in the life of a timeshare corporation, timeshare members are hopeful our grassroots efforts to educate lawmakers will someday bear fruit.
The Manhattan Club investigation was one member vs developer battle over lack of availability and other concerns that led to the $6.5 million settlement. TMC owners were banned from the timeshare industry as part of the agreement. While the settlement was hailed as a significant accomplishment, Douglas Wasser, an attorney involved with the investigation is not so sure:
The $6.5 million was set aside for the benefit of “hundreds of purchasers” as a restitution fund. But The Manhattan Club has upwards of 14,700 unit owners. So, the pool of Manhattan Club owners entitled to a purchase refund may be a very small one.
The forced divestiture by the current sponsor of control over the Manhattan Club could be a lift for the entire community. Given the lack of confidence in the current reservation system and the many complaints that the reservation system was heavily tilted to benefit the sponsor, this seems like a significant positive to the Manhattan Club community. It may restore confidence, perhaps drive up market value of the units and allow those who want to leave to do so, and bring in new and willing participants.
Will it be uplifting for all timeshare members?
Inside Timeshare and other advocates expect little improvement given the polarity that exists between member advocacy groups and ARDA, the American Resort Development Association. I have personally forwarded close to 100 complaints to ARDA, prepared by members alleging timeshare sales agents violated ARDA’s Code of Ethics, which have been ignored.
The two resorts which seem to have the highest volume of complaints each give ARDA ROC, the supposed owner’s arm of ARDA, $1million dollars a year through “voluntary” opt out donations. It took until November to have my $7 removed. When I contacted my resort to have the donation removed, it was instead moved to another account and reported as a delinquency on that account. When members ask what ARDA ROC is, members are told it is a nonprofit that helps members. However, ARDA seemed to be on the side of TMC developers.
The picture above shows two ARDA attorneys observing a TMC meeting and taking notes. The notes may have later turned into an amicus brief written by a high ranking executive member and attorney for ARDA attempting to defend TMC. In the brief, Robb Webb described the company’s practices as “routine industry transactions” and, according to one source, drafted some TMC original documents.
Our readers would agree false promises and shady sales tactics are often routine industry practices or transactions, but members are alarmed ARDA defended such practices. In the settlement, the Manhattan Club defendants acknowledged that they misled buyers about availability and the ability to sell back the timeshare.
“The owners of the Manhattan Club lured thousands of timeshare buyers with false promises and shady sales tactics that violated New York law,” Schneiderman said.
What’s a corporate bill mill and does such an entity play a role in timeshare?
On Friday in Part II we will examine how politics played a role in the Marriott racketeering case, as lawyers involved with the case suspect. It’s been reported backdoor politics contributed to a bill signed by Florida Governor Rick Scottthat, in effect, rendered the Marriott case non-meritorious.
Unsure of the allegations, I researched lobby efforts and their influence on legislation and the possibility of timeshare participating in an ALEC type endeavor. Georgia Senator Nan Orrock described ALEC as “a corporate bill mill.” ALEC stands for American Legislative Exchange Council.
According to Senator Orrock, ALEC is an organization that gets money from lobbyists and gives the money to legislatures and it is considered charity. Three lawmakers, mentioned in this video, received $22,000 in “scholarships” from ALEC, considered an educational charity. The YouTube is disturbing.
The timeshare PAC ARDA also has a charitable educational organization called AIFARDA International Fund. I don’t know enough about AIF to parallel it to ARDA, but the legislative action in the Marriott case seems similar.
So where do we go from here and why can’t we all just get along? Has greed so permeated timeshare and American politics that a working relationship between timeshare members and developers or between the rich and the not rich, is as unlikely as Bernie Sanders and President Trump coming to terms over health care?
Fortunately, the court of public opinion is still open as long as the first amendment stands while timeshare members keep coming forward filing regulatory complaints and reaching out to the media if they feel they have been harmed. Someday, somewhere, someone will listen. Until then, we build our case brick by brick.
If you or someone you know needs help with a timeshare, contact Inside Timeshare or a self-help advocacy Facebook.
Here we go it’s Friday again, the end of another busy week in the world of timeshare, it does seem to be a world that never sleeps. There is always something new to be reported, be it another “bogus” company or an old company coming up with a new “scam”, the ingenuity of some is beyond belief.
So far this week the news from the Spanish courts has been flooding in, with more owners having their contracts declared null & void and the return of all their money. The intrepid lawyers that form Canarian Legal Alliance have been very busy. Most of these judgements have been from the lower courts, who are applying the Supreme Court rulings with a vengeance, leaving no doubt what the interpretation of the timeshare law is.
Inside Timeshare has also been receiving a great deal of information about one company and their new product, yesterday’s article “New Name Same Company” shows the lengths some will go to appear to be different. Unfortunately for them, some of us can see through their smoke and mirrors, so we shall be keeping a very watchful eye on their activities.
On the “Bogus” law firm front Litigious Abogados and their other associated “lawyers” are still at it, the UK Action Fraud website has been receiving many reports of their activities. Inside Timeshare can also report that the Guardia Civil have an extensive file handed to them for investigation. So we wait with anticipation as to what the outcome will be.
So, now on to this Friday’s article from Irene and Irina, Resale and Rentals.
If you own or are thinking of buying a timeshare – the Bob Massi Property Man show has provided important tips for timeshare buyers and sellers. In Season 2 Florida, Mr. Massi interviewed members of the Licensed Timeshare Resale Broker Association. The LTRBA members offered important tips for consumers interested in buying a timeshare as well as tips on how to avoid a scam when a timeshare member or owner needs to sell.
As a follow up to Mr. Massi’s prior timeshare segments, my husband and I were interviewed to express concerns and problems faced by Diamond Resorts International timeshare members. There are many who use and enjoy their Diamond timeshare, but as has been widely reported, rising maintenance fees and the lack of a secondary market can spell disaster for families who need to get out from underneath their Diamond timeshare. Timeshares can cost $100,000 or more so walking away with nothing can financially devastate families.
Our interview airs this Friday, April 21 at 8:30 PM EST on FOX Business. Las Vegas attorney Bob Massi has been a champion consumer advocate for the underdog. While showcasing spectacular homes of the wealthy, he also contrasts the flip side of wealth by interviewing consumers struggling with faulty or predatory lending practices.
Mr. Massi interviewed my husband and me after receiving a multitude of complaints after his segment featuring the home of Jackie and David Siegel. The Siegels own Westgate Resorts, a timeshare company based in Florida. The segment, “The Queen of Versailles” resulted in a multitude of complaints about timeshare. The Queen of Versailles is the name of the documentary featuring the Seigel’s massive 90,000 square foot home with 30 bathrooms, a 20 car garage and a 4,000 square foot clothes closet. The original documentary took Best Director at Sundance. Many wealthy Americans have built large homes, but with enough complaints to prompt a two year Consumer Financial Protection Bureau investigation of Westgate’s business practices, I wondered about such wealth at the expense of timeshare owners unable to sell and sometimes not even able to give back their timeshare.
Mr. Massi’sLicensed Timeshare Resale Broker Association segment warned timeshare owners to work through a licensed timeshare broker. Ironically, FOX Celebrities Dave Ramsey and Laura Ingraham are paid to endorse firms like Resort Release, transfer agent firms licensed timeshare brokers warn consumers to avoid.
A sequence of events led up to our interview with Mr. Massi. My husband and I attended a grueling and demeaning timeshare presentation at Diamond ResortsGrand Beach Resort July of 2015. We had purchased two Diamond contracts with few problems, but when I witnessed the tactics being used during this predatory sales presentation, I became alarmed. I returned to our unit at Mystic Dunes, turned on the television, watched “The Queen of Versailles”, and wondered how the wealth was won.
I wrote to Mr. Massi about my concerns. Never dreaming a response, I was surprised to receive a call from a FOX producer asking if my husband and I would be willing to be interviewed by Mr. Massi. Having just accepted a position as an interim music director, I declined, but was contacted again six months later and agreed to the interview. The producer said they had a multitude of responses to their first timeshare segment, but I was the only one invited to be interviewed, as I was the only respondent who wanted to talk about the positives, in addition to the negatives of timeshare.
To prepare for the interview I contacted LTRBA member David Cortese of Magical Realty in Orlando and asked if he would list our Diamond points. David was one of the LTRBA members interviewed by Mr. Massi. David sadly informed me he doubted that any of the LTRBA members would our list Diamond points as they felt the restrictions the company places on the use of secondary points are more onerous than that of any other major timeshare company.
To me this sounded like unfair business practices and a violation of fair trade. I filed a complaint with the FTC, but they just sent an autoreply pointing me in the right direction. If thousands of people complain, they go to Congress to enact better laws. That hasn’t happened.
Timeshare attorney Mike Finn of the Finn Law Group maintains a steady 500 timeshares cases. Mr. Finn said about 20% to 25% of his timeshare cases are against Diamond Resorts. He said he has never had a Disneyclient. I asked Mr. Finn why legislators have not addressed the harm done to consumers when a perpetual contract does not have a secondary market. A secondary market is not to be confused with a voluntary surrender or exit plan as those leave the consumer who has spent $25,000 to over $100,000, often financed at 12% to 18% interest, with nothing. The timeshare developer takes back the points and resells for full value.
“Instead of shunning the secondary market, embrace it; the developers should invest some of their profits into stabilizing the resale market. Take the lesson the auto, boat and camper industries have long ago learned, that a healthy resale market is essential to the entire industry, from beginning to end there must be a continuous flow, a circle of economic life, if you will. If you can’t set up a used timeshare lot across the street from your project, at least sponsor knowledgeable licensed real estate brokers well offsite so as not to compete directly with your retail operations. Sure you’ll lose some initial business to these brokers, but by indirectly supporting these brokers, you’ll make timeshare interests affordable to the folks who really can’t afford to buy retail, but can perhaps afford to repurchase the interest of your newly divorced initial purchaser (something that you arguably owed the poor gal or guy anyway) and, more importantly perhaps, support the continuing financial health of the resort via the annual maintenance payments now to be made by the new owner, and ever crucial to the future of the resort you built and developed. Timeshare developers could take pride, not just profit, from making family vacations an affordable part of the American lifestyle by opening up that opportunity to even more folks!”
“Timeshare doesn’t need new litigation to assist the establishment of a re-sale market. All they need to do is support it from a market standpoint! They clearly have zero interest in doing that,”Mr. Finn added.
If you or someone you know has a timeshare problem, contact Inside Timeshare or one of our Advocacy groups. Our advocates are members helping other members, bringing our experience and knowledge to other members or owners while providing a clearinghouse of information about legal and legislative issues facing timeshare today.
Timeshare owners worldwide would like to thank Mr. Massi and Business Fox for bringing this important topic to the attention of the public in America, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines. Inside Timeshare works with contributors and timeshare members in an ever expanding horizon.
We seek to provide Diamond Resort 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.
So there we have it, the end of another week, Inside Timeshare again thanks Irene and Irina for their contribution, we also thank all who have contributed information to help others. Next week we will be highlighting another military family who have fallen foul of the sharp practices of some timeshare sales agents. These stories are all too familiar, the consistency of the testimonies of different families bares witness to some very nasty sales techniques.
If you have a story to tell or have any information about a company that you would like to share with others, Inside Timeshare would love to hear from you.
Back in January, Inside Timeshare published Irene Parker’s article “Attorneys General and Timeshare under Trump”, This was at the time of the now President Trump’s inauguration. In the introduction, we broke the news to our US readers of the plans Mr Trump had going through planning in Scotland, for a second golf course and the increase in the number of timeshare apartments.
This apparently came as a big surprise to our American readers, it would seem they had no idea that he was also involved in “timeshare”.
Below are three links to two major UK daily newspapers, the last link is around 9 months old, but shows the opposition that Mr, now President Trump faced from local people. In this particular article is the story of a quarryman who refused to sell his home to Trump, who described him as a “disgrace” for not wanting to sell him his “pigsty of a home”. I don’t know about you, but in the UK and especially in Scotland that type of remark about someone’s home is a total insult.
It seems a good time to revisit my $7 “voluntary” donation to ARDA-ROC. The word voluntary has a nice ring to it so for years when paying our maintenance fees, if I was asked if I would like to make the voluntary donation to ARDA-ROC, I said, “Sure.” Since then I have learned too much to ever answer in the affirmative again, unless proven wrong.
Like it or not, timeshare is all about politics. President Trump, or his family, is going into the timeshare business. Pictured to the left of President Elect Trump is long-standing friend David Siegel, owner of Westgate timeshare. Given the current political climate it would not surprise me if the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau halted their investigation of Westgate. The CFPBwas spearheaded by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. That’s the organization that helped the Wells Fargo victims.
As Charles Thomas of Inside Timeshare previously reported,
“Well it is actually quite simple for those in Scotland, back in 2008 there were some very heated debates over Mr Trump’s plan to build an 18 hole golf course and resort in Balmedie Aberdeenshire. This met with considerable resistance from the local people, but eventually Trump won through.
The original plan was to build a 450-room hotel, a second golf course, 500 luxury homes and 900 timeshare apartments along with a second 18 hole golf course. In a recent article in The Guardian newspaper these plans now intend to double the number of homes and timeshare apartments”
Whether you are or were for or against now President Trump, it is clear he is on the side of the timeshare developer which has become a battlefield pitting owners against developers.
Now to our main attraction:
What is ARD-ROC doing today?
A breakdown for soundbite reading and request for more information:
In a perfect world the only thing ARDA-ROC would be doing today would be writing checks, sitting back and relaxing. But, it’s not a perfect world and so a typical day for Chairman Ken McKelvey goes something like this:
It is a Thursday and McKelvey started his day discussing a new wrinkle in the South Carolina transfer legislation that ARDA-ROC has been proposing.
I believe this is South Carolina House Bill 3647 tightening the language of timeshare transfers. In our last article we reported how the nature of the perpetual contract, rising maintenance fees and little or no secondary market spells a disaster for aging original owners if denied a voluntary surrender.
This does sound like a benefit for owners because an extra $300 slapped onto an exchange seems exorbitant.
The day before was loaded with details regarding a Saint Maarten Parliament Timeshare Ordinance and its potential impact on consumers.I know nothing about the Saint Maarteen Parliament Timeshare Ordinance but it sounds ominous.
Along with a final draft of legislature in Florida regarding the sunset clause to help legacy properties gain reasonable voting requirements to extend into the timeshare agreements into the future. Whew.
And he’s just a volunteer who is happy it is not Monday.
The ongoing operations of ARDA-ROC is both reactive and proactive; on one hand they react to any proposed legislature, dealing with real estate or tourism proposed laws that have any tentacles that could possibly affect timeshare and on the other hand they write and lobby for legislature that could help timeshare owners.
This lobby effort sparked outrage among owner advocates. Did my $7 go to this effort?
“The bills (House Bill 453 and Senate Bill 932) have been sponsored by two politicians from Central Florida — deep in the heart of time-share country: Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, and Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.
Both politicians have received money from time-share interests — an industry that showers cash on Florida politicians and committees, including $300,000 to the Republican Party of Florida and $150,000 to the Democrats,” reported Scott Maxwell for the Orlando Sentinel.
Throughout the year, ARDA-ROC has lobbyists on retainer in up to 25 states, and territories, and who according to McKelvey “we HOPE the only thing we ever hear from them is an invoice.”
These lobbyists monitor and pick through every piece of proposed legislature with a fine tooth comb, seeking things that are rarely specifically spelled out to say timeshare, but could be interpreted to have grand impact on it.
The “fine tune comb” can be seen in the Nevada State Bill 195 that would have allowed an Association Board to terminate its management contract (the most important and costly agreement a board oversees), issued to them by the developer, without obtaining a majority owner vote – an impossible effort. ARDA-ROC identified the change and successfully lobbied to have it removed. This was clearly an owner friendly provision the industry did not support. Lobbyists (of ARDA and ARDA ROC, they use the terms loosely and interchangeably) suggested (vaguely and without discussion despite being an absurd assertion) the original language was “intended to protect timeshare owners” and should not be changed.
Before we go on with today’s article from Irene, there has been some breaking news over the past week. The Supreme Court in Madrid has issued three rulings against Silverpoint, on behalf of three clients of Canarian Legal Alliance, all three came within days of each other.
In the first was the British Client who purchase at Club Paradiso, the court ruled that this was indeed timeshare and not a “club affiliation” as Silverpoint claimed. This case has taken around five years to get to this stage, with appeal following appeal.
The second case was that of a CLA client from Belgium, the court declared once again the illegality of contracts over 50 years.
Another British client of CLA who purchased the Hollywood Mirage and Beverly Hills ClubVacation Package. Again this ruling was around the “club affiliation” scheme, the court once again ruled that this did indeed fall under the scope of Spanish timeshare law, (Ley 42/98) as in the first ruling.
So far since March 2015 CLA have achieved remarkable results, with around 42 rulings from the Supreme Court, involving numerous timeshare companies, with Anfi being the most prominent. (Follow the link to The Northern Echo article on the first case).
In the article by Irene today, she looks at the Diamond Resorts Clarity (™) programme, it would seem that Diamond are trying to change the way they operate amid growing protests from owners, especially the elderly.
This programme at present will not be rolled out in Europe, Although Diamond Resorts in Europe have already begun to make considerable changes in their approach to owners / members. They have set in place a programme where members can surrender their timeshare under what Diamond call “exceptional circumstances”, with this there is no charge.
One reader has Steve has taken advantage of this, with Diamond accepting his surrender, but there is a twist in this story. Diamond are investigating how he was sold and how he also ended up with a finance package, they obviously believe that there is something wrong. Once this is completed, Inside Timeshare will bring you the results.
Contained within the article is an interview Irene had with Maya Pogoda the Diamond Public Relations Officer. She has welcomed the chance to speak with Inside Timeshare and has supplied numerous comments and answers to our questions. So on with Irene´s article.
Diamond Resorts Clarity (™) – The Good, the Bad and the Critical
Maya Pogoda, Diamond Public Relations spokesperson, talked to me about the new national program consisting of a series of operational procedures and enhancements, new training and compliance procedures and protocols, and other customer-friendly changes to the sales process.
Press Release excerpts:
Missing from press release:“We recognize the need for Diamond Resorts and all timeshare companies to change or improve timeshare business practices that have led to predatory lending and deceptive sales techniques, resulting in harm to timeshare owners,” suggests Irene.
I took issue with several statements made in the press release:
“At Diamond Resorts, we already excel in customer satisfaction, but we are constantly looking for ways to do even better,” said Executive Vice President, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer Michael Flaskey.
I spoke with a few timeshare attorneys. One paralegal who works for a timeshare attorney asked not to be identified. Their firm has released 10,000 owners from timeshare contracts and said Diamond is their biggest “customer”. Timeshare attorney Mike Finn of the Finn Law Group carries approximately 500 timeshare cases with 20% to 25% against Diamond Resorts. Mr. Finn said he’s never had a Disney timeshare client.
There are also several angry Diamond owner groups:
Intrawest EmbarcDiamond Facebook page has over 2500 Intrawest members. An administrator of this group recently suggested I post our last Inside Timeshare article on their Facebook page after being banned by a Diamond Influenced Member Supported 7000 member Facebook group.
I had sent the article to an Intrawest administrators individually. She receives a link to all my articles. Unfortunately, one of the administrators from the 7000 member group voiced a warning to one of the other Intrawest administrators urging a word of caution concerning the dangerous piano teacher, Irene Parker.
The 7200 member Facebook group consists of about 50% happy/angry owners. Members who are 100% negative on Diamond Resorts are privately and quietly urged to join DRIP, according to one member who asked not to be identified. Ironically, the same administrator was banned from the DRIP website accused of being too positive.
Charles Thomas was banished within days of joining the 7000 member Facebook accused of supporting the Canarian Legal Alliance. Charles can better explain the success CLA has had fighting timeshare abuse.
Owner infighting is strongly encouraged by Diamond Resorts because United we Stand and Divided we Fall. There is a lot of that going on in the world today.
Inside Timeshare allows political commentary to enter into our articles. In fact, given the fact the Trump family is launching a timeshare in Scotland, it is even encouraged. One of President Trump’s closest friends of 20 years is David Siegel of Westgate. Westgate has been under Consumer Financial Protection Bureau investigation for the last few years.
Continuing the litany of unhappy Diamond owners:
Monarch Website of angry owners owning fixed weeks could not gain access after converting to points, resulting in a class action lawsuit.
Poipu Angry Owner website: Assessments resulting in a class action lawsuit.
Thousands of complaints have been voiced on Redweek, BBB and other internet complaint sites. Just yesterday a Redweek member reached out to me. I sadly informed her she made my list of top two percent timeshare horror stories. The subject of Diamond timeshare sales agent Rick Casper of Polo Towers Las Vegas will be the subject of my next article
Of course, people can always contact me directly.
RedWeek continues to allow me to post. I was asked to provide a link to the article that caused me to be banned. Controversy generated by an article is a writer’s best friend.
My Facebook page has no quota on happy/angry comments. I deny I am 100% negative on Diamond. We still enjoy Diamond Resorts and find good value at times. I am encouraged by the meaningful conversations I have had with diplomat and PR spokesperson Maya Pogoda.
I find relatively few complaints on the internet about Hyatt, Hilton or Disney.
With the US Presidential election now coming to a close over the next week, Irene Parker, who collaborates with Inside Timeshare on matters which affect timeshare on both side of the Great Lake (or Pond as our American friends call it), has sent in her most recent article.
It very much focuses on the political game that is affecting timeshare in the US, showing how it splits into Republican and Democrat, as she explained, the industry is very much pro Republican, the Trump camp, the Democrats seem to be supported by the timeshare owners. We should not be surprised by this.
Irene has very often commented on the documentary “The Queen Of Versailles”, the wife of the owner of Westgate,David Siegel. It shows the 90,000sq ft property they have been building as their home. It is quite staggering, with a walk in wardrobe (sorry closet), bigger that most homes in Europe. Irene has in many writings dubbed herself “The Peasant of Venice” in contrast to The Queen. Have to admit Irene does have a great sense of humour. Irene claims it’s not humour if one studies Polish and Russian history and the need for peasant uprisings.
Irene opens her article on the New York Manhattan Club, when the Democratic New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman halted trading of timeshare. As you will see from her article, it is a very murky world indeed, the lines between timeshare and politics are blurred to say the least. Enjoy her article it reveals a lot.
Timeshare Battles Split Down Political Party Lines
Democratic New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman made headlines taking on presidential candidate Donald Trump and the Trump Foundation. Mr. Schneiderman claimed the Foundation did not meet certain administrative requirements necessary to receive donations in New York.
In addition to challenging Trump, Mr. Schneiderman has also taken on another developer and billionaire, Bruce Eichner, and Eichner’s Manhattan Club timeshare. Mr. Schneiderman halted timeshare sales at the Manhattan Club due to allegedly fraudulent sales practices involving a “bait and switch” scheme. Manhattan Club buyers learned there was a lack of availability for those who purchased memberships, while the general public could easily book online. A court battle that began in 2014 continues today.
The New York Post unleashed an onslaught of criticisms against Mr. Schneiderman accusing him of picking his fights based on political motives.
Republican Florida Attorney GeneralPam Bondi created her own headlines when she accepted a $25,000 donation from Donald Trump while considering whether to participate in a Trump University investigation. Her investigation was dropped after receiving the donation.
There is an eerie similarity between Trump U and timeshare sales, illustrated in an extraordinary CNN interview between Trump U salesperson James Harris and CNN investigative reporter Drew Griffin. Not all timeshare sales agents are predatory, but complaints about overly aggressive sales tactics abound.
In the CNN interview, Harris is accused of exploiting the elderly by selling them classes averaging $34,000 and then “up selling” them to attend more classes. In rogue timeshare presentations, an average timeshare week costs $25,000 and after the initial purchase, owners are barraged to purchase additional points or weeks.