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Friday’s Letter from America

Welcome to this week’s Letter from America, today Irene Parker gives us a report on the 3rd Quarter of Timeshare Advocacy Group.

We are also pleased to announce the publication of The book Everything About Timeshare, Before, During and After the Sale is just around the corner, plenty of time for the holiday shopping season. Our own Irene Parker wrote the Forward for Wayne C. Robinson‘s book. To stay updated on the release, subscribe to this link:

13 SHOCKING SECRETS http://eepurl.com/dxsZEb

We have also received the following from one of our very concerned Anfi members and readers, this was posted on the Anfi Contracts facebook page. It would appear that there is some grave concern as to where large amounts of money have gone and members are calling for an explanation.

Ahead of Monte’s general assembly in November, an important issue needs to be clarified. In the accounts published last year, Monte’s two main debtors were, at the end of 2016: Anfi Resorts (the operational company) with an accumulated debt of €1.897.858, and Anfi Sales (the sales company) with an accumulated debt of €1.854.918.

In the accounts presented this year, Resorts are listed with €0 in debt, whereas Sales’ debt has increased by €20.000 to €1.874.755. Meanwhile, a new post has appeared: post 12, called “present investments” (translated from Norwegian), with a total of €1.456.093 at the end of 2017.

These investments represent €441.765 less than Resorts’ accumulated debt at the end of 2016. At the general assembly, the club members should be entitled to an explanation as to the whereabouts of this money, and be informed about where the “present investments” have been invested.

Well all we can say is we will be watching this story as it unfolds with the November General Assembly.

Now for this week’s article.

Timeshare Advocacy Group™ 3rd Quarter Report 2018

T Shirts are in! (T Shirts are blue)

  

By Irene Parker

October 12, 2018  

Timeshare Advocacy Group™  has heard from exactly 600 timeshare families as of September 30, 2018, since we began tracking complaints in 2017. We received a total of 267 reports from families for all of 2017, so 333 families for the first three quarters of 2018 is a dramatic increase.

2018 broken down by quarters:

1st quarter 126

2nd quarter 111

3rd quarter 96

We anticipate an upswing fourth quarter when maintenance fee invoices go out. We have already received 21 new complaints from October 1 to October 10.

Most families contacting us are angry, overwhelmed, and confused, all but a handful describing unfair and deceptive sales practices. They say they bought a timeshare for reasons that did not exist, based on false promises made by timeshare sales agents. The Brett Kavanaugh hearings have taught us about the importance of the burden of proof. While four FBI agents and several attorneys have told me it is not legal to use and abuse the oral representation clause, the ingrained mantra timeshare company response to the majority of complaints is “You signed a contract.”

Not one member who contacted us was aware of the inadequate secondary market until hit with a medical or financial crisis, like Ashley Muise our newest Inside Timeshare contributor. Ashley’s baby was born needing two open heart surgeries. Adding a timeshare loan foreclosure on top of that kind of stress has driven many families to despair. Most of our senior readers maintained an 800 plus credit score for 30 plus years, now forced to endure the demeaning timeshare foreclosure process. I would not make a good timeshare customer service representative because I am moved by their distress.

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission Section 5:

https://www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocs/supmanual/cch/ftca.pdf

Our standard disclaimer is that we know there are millions who bought and use their timeshares with no complaints. Timeshare buyers blessed with an honest sales agent should not demean or judge those who say they experienced unfair and deceptive sales practices.

“Don’t call a timeshare exit company!”

“We have your best interest at heart!”  

This the message one timeshare company sent to their members.

No they don’t have your best interest at heart. If the timeshare company had your best interest at heart, why do they almost always respond, “You signed a contract” when members complain about being lied to. They have their bottom line’s best interest at heart. The timeshare developer doesn’t want anyone to stand in the way of their “recaptured inventory” process. Timeshare company annual reports list a secondary market as a risk to shareholders.

The timeshare developer

The timeshare lobby

Lawmakers and some regulators

We are as much against timeshare exit companies as the developer, but given the “Hear no evil, see no evil” response from the industry as to the obvious deceit perpetrated by timeshare sales agents, it’s hard to feel sympathy for the timeshare developer plagued with “cease and desist” letters. They say their members are being “targeted” when in fact members are desperate and turn to internet key words for help.

The Florida Department of Business Practices and Regulation (DBPR) advises members to call a lawyer – referring them to what amounts to be a lawyer phone book of sorts. More than a few times the member ended up with a lawyer who doesn’t know what they are doing because they don’t have timeshare experience. The lawyers get paid, and then we end up helping the member for free.   

Members have reported back to us that The Nevada Real Estate Division has responded to all but a few complaints with “You have no proof.” It is legal to record a meeting without the other party aware in Nevada. In Nevada members need to record the sales presentation.

The Florida DBPR, responds, “Verbal representations are hard to prove,” but Florida is a two person state, meaning both parties need to be aware of the recording of an in-person meeting. Members are not allowed to take handwritten notes from the sales agent, so I don’t know what proof anyone could produce. Tell them you will record. If they say no, forget the gift and leave. If you will be charged something if you leave, painstakingly write down every word the sales agent utters.  

Only two out of 600 complaints have members recorded. The first to record had their contract cancelled in a heartbeat. The second, even with the recording, has had to fight tooth and nail. She has received a full refund from the credit card company, their entire purchase, but the timeshare company is still not releasing her from the contract!  

Timeshare members seek straight answers, which our advocates provide free of charge from England to Malaysia.

Our 44 advocates are professionals who bring their skills and life experiences to the table, volunteering their time to help answer members’ questions.

Pete Gibbs has volunteered to be our Secret Shopper coordinator, replacing Karen Garello. Thank you to Karen for her past service.

Karen’s Secret Shopper questions:

http://insidetimeshare.com/fridays-letter-america-16/

Advocate Sheilah Brust has her three page pencil pitch from Florida that shows:

$8631

-8631    

0   (Meaning buying additional points would result in no maintenance fees)

First, Sheilah was told the company didn’t know if she obtained the pencil pitch without the sales agent knowing. When she pointed out how preposterous this defense is – while the pencil pitch is incriminating, it is inadmissible if she took it on her own! The next defense, the Florida AG timeshare reviewer told her that she didn’t understand the pencil pitch either until she talked to the company’s attorney. So how, Sheilah asked, would anyone understand this convoluted, sleight-of-hand explanation of the ability to pay maintenance fees with points? No such program exists?

Frustrated, Sheilah designed a T Shirt that we hope to sell to raise money for a legal defense fund, as has been suggested. We have several 100% disabled veterans and members with grave medical decisions driven to financial disaster, some driven to the verge of bankruptcy.  We have a five member committee to account for receipt and disbursement of funds. As of now, we are in the preliminary proposal writing stage. We are working out the mechanics of a Go Fund Me account. We will suggest buyers contribute $5 from every T Shirt to the legal defense fund.

Many of those we have helped were on their way to the upfront “guaranteed to get you out of your timeshare” firms, some that prey on those already victimized. Not all exit companies are bad, but scams abound. From this perspective, the developer, the timeshare lobby ARDA, and TAG advocates are on the same side. This 15 page Department of Justice report listing timeshare fraud, jail terms and fines, says it all:  

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

We seek to provide timeshare 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.

Thank you to all our Inside Timeshare contributors and upcoming new contributors. Contact Inside Timeshare if you, or someone you know, needs assistance or would like to share their timeshare story for the benefit of others.

“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens” Jimi Hendrix

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

That is all for this week, if you have any comments or would like to contribute an article use our contact page and we will get back to you.

Have a great weekend and join us again next week.

Chicken Soup for Timeshare´s Soul!

Chicken soup is used as a remedy whenever anyone is ill, I remember as a kid if I was under the weather mum or gran would ensure I had a bowl of hot chicken soup. Whether it did any medical good is not clear, but it did make me feel better.

The chicken soup for timeshare is a cacophony of abbreviated names, which many of us cannot work out what they stand for. I will not go for the ones on mainland Europe, for one simple reason, I don’t speak the myriad of languages we have. So here are the ones we have in the UK if you have a timeshare or consumer problem.

Firstly the timeshare ones: we have the RDO, Resorts Development Organisation, this is the trade body for the industry and represents only the industry not the consumer.

TATOC, The Association of Timeshare Owners Committees, this is supposed to represent you the owners, but as we know they are funded by the industry for the industry. Also they are in deep trouble as we saw in yesterday’s article.

Non timeshare organisations:

BIS, Business Innovation and Skills, this is a government department, in the past they are the ones who closed down several “dodgy” holiday clubs.

They also work very closely with TS, this is Trading Standards. Each county council has their own trading standards office, again they have been instrumental in closing down rogue companies.

CAB, this is the Citizens Advice Bureaux, this is an agency run mainly by volunteers who offer advice and information on a variety of subjects. Unfortunately when it comes to timeshare they will refer you to TATOC.

FCA, the Financial Conduct Authority, they deal with anything within the finance world, it is they who lay down the regulations for how businesses such as debt collecting agencies operate.

FOS, The Financial Ombudsman Service,this is a government body who is the last resort in any dispute on financial matters. For instance problems with loan agreement, credit card refunds, including complaints against debt collecting agencies.

There are plenty more but my soup pot is only small, so I cannot fit anymore in, Irene in the her article today explains the numerous ones in the US, this will be of specific interest to those in Europe who have bought in the US. You also have the right to lodge complaints there, even if you live in Europe.

 

A Survey of Administrative Remedies for the Timeshare Owner

Original by Attorney Mike Finn, Finn Law Group

http://www.finnlawgroup.com/learning-center/surveying-administrative-remedies-for-timeshare-consumers-seeking-relief

Peasant Version: An Alphabet Soup of Regulators

Who are they? How can AGs, CFPB, FTC, or the BBB Help Us?

By Irene Parker – February 6, 2017

Board meet

Many timeshare owners have little or no understanding as to how to go about fostering change when business practices have degenerated to the point such practices become harmful to consumers. This article takes some of the mystery out of governmental and nongovernmental agencies offering a blueprint for consumers to follow.

Given recent actions taken by such agencies, and in light of today’s timeshare climate, we look at what’s happening and examine where we can go from here.

The Manhattan ClubNY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman halts sales.

https://ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-announces-court-order-barring-sales-manhattan-club-timeshare-hotel

Arizona Attorney General $800000 Diamond Resort Settlement and AOD

https://www.azag.gov/press-release/attorney-general-brnovich-announces-800000-settlement-diamond-resorts

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia CoffmanHighland Resorts and Sedona Pines

http://insidetimeshare.com/another-us-attorney-general-exposes-deceptive-tactics/

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery IIIFestiva $3 million settlement

https://www.tn.gov/attorneygeneral/news/38312

Diamond Resorts Billion dollar lawsuitAlbright Stoddard Warnick & Albright

http://insidetimeshare.com/1billion-law-suit-diamond-resorts-international/

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Westgate investigation

https://www.buzzfeed.com/matthewzeitlin/financial-regulators-are-looking-into-americas-largest-times?utm_term=.bqeQAdL7#.whk6BDr5

$20 Million Wyndham Whistleblower award to Trish Williams

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/25/business/my-soul-feels-taller-a-whistle-blowers-20-million-vindication.html?_r=0

Three former Hyatt sales agents: Whistleblower lawsuit.

http://insidetimeshare.com/whistleblowers-expose-timeshare-sales-tactics/

Clearly, timeshare needs to change, so I reached out to timeshare attorney Mike Finn of the Finn Law Group in an effort to understand how regulatory agencies work. Mr. Finn describes his writing style as “lawyerly”.  In order for me to understand an article found on the Finn Law Group “Learning Center”, I have to rewrite it. This serves as some source of consternation to Mr. Finn, but he on occasion graciously allows me to redact one of his papers so that my fellow peasants can understand the topic.

First: The Federal Trade Commission FTC

The Federal Trade Commission was created in 1914 to prevent unfair and deceptive acts or practices. The FTC does not resolve individual complaints, but provides information about the next steps a consumer may take to resolve an issue.

The FTC looks at fact patterns in an industry. Several (the key word is always several) complaints may indicate a pattern of fraud and abuse which may lead the FTC to investigate and eliminate those unfair practices.

We begin with the FTC, because many states have enacted a portion of this federal act into state law.

profit loss

The Timeshare Cycle

If a consumer encounters a rogue sales agent in the timeshare industry, the experience can be described as a vicious cycle or circle that begins with the oral representation clause used and abused by unscrupulous timeshare sales agents. Consumer complaints beginning with “the salesman said” are sadly told the timeshare developer is protected by the oral representation clause.

In some cases, as in the case of Ralph Marble, maintenance fees escalate so fast the timeshare owner can no longer afford the fee. Mr. Marble was never able to use his vacation plan because of being diagnosed with a medical condition shortly after purchase. His maintenance fees increased from $200 to $684 over eight years.

http://www.clickorlando.com/news/investigators/timeshare-woes-for-one-man-who-tried-to-cancel-after-an-illness

Voluntary Surrenders are on a case by case basis. If a timeshare owner is denied a voluntary surrender, they are often driven into the nets of timeshare “listing” or transfer agents. Some transfer agents are bogus which means the owner thinks they have unloaded their timeshare but have not. If the transfer agent is “legitimate”, the surrendered contracts are bundled 50 to 100 contracts and sold back to the timeshare developer, who in turn resells for full price. Thus the circle is complete.

After a four to seven hour timeshare sales presentation, the beleaguered buyer is poorly equipped to read the mile high stack of documents they are about to sign.

man list

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

The CFPB is one of the newest government agencies created in July 2010 partly in response to the mortgage crisis in the late 2000s. The goal of the CFPB is to watch out for American consumers in the market for consumer financial products and services. The timeshare industry utilizes various financing tools in its sales practices and presentations.

The CFPB told me consumers should choose the mortgage option when filing a timeshare complaint, even if there is no mortgage. Timeshare is somewhat new to the CFPB. If the owner does not want to file a formal complaint, there is an option to “Tell Your Story”. I tell the CFPB stories almost every week.

The CFPB does publish the subject and data of the complaint, feeding its Consumer Complaint Database. Most importantly, the CFPB will report to Congress with the purpose of enforcing federal consumer financial laws and writing better rules and regulations.

As more credit card transactions involving timeshare purchases are generated, the credit card financing aspect should not be overlooked for consumers seeking a monetary resolution to their timeshare purchase issues, assuming a credit card was utilized. Diamond Resorts offers a six month 0% interest rate “Barclaycard” offer if the credit card is used to purchase a timeshare. More and more timeshare developers are acting as new credit card originators for third party financial provides such as Bill Me Later (a division of PayPal) Barclay Bank, Bank of America, and a couple of credit unions.

Unlike other regulatory agencies, companies must reply to the CFPB’s complaints or inquiries. Consumers should file their complaints with the CFPB, but expect only a modest resolution and an opportunity to be heard. However, the more complaints the CFPB receives regarding a company, practice, or industry – the more likely those complaints will be presented to Congress. Congress has the power to create new rules and regulations that can improve the market for consumers when Congress reviews and enacts new laws.

Attorneys General or State’s Attorney

An Attorney General (AG) is a publicly elected position. Every state in the US has one. The AG is charged as the chief legal officer for their respective state. The AG’s Office proclaims to protect “timeshare owners by investigating business practices” relating to the sale and resale of timeshare interests.

The AG’s Consumer Protection Division has the civil enforcement authority to investigate and prosecute violations of the state’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. The Division is additionally responsible for the enforcement of the civil provisions of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act,(“RICO”), which punishes businesses and “enterprises” conducting patterns of illegal activities within a state.

Notably, the AG by law cannot represent private citizens in legal disputes. When a complaint is filed by a consumer, and the AG investigates the alleged misconduct, the AG does not represent the consumer on an individualized basis, but rather the interest of consumers in their state as a whole.

As in the case of the $800000 settlement the Arizona AG reached with Diamond Resorts, if the Division investigates and is successful in prosecuting or settling the action, there is a potential for recovery.

Florida Department of Business Professional Regulation (“DBPR”) state regulatory agency – Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes (“Timeshares Division”)

Florida is a timeshare mecca center. The DBPR is an extension of the executive branch of the Governor, and is charged with licensing and regulating all businesses and professionals within the state. The DBPR subdivision relating to timeshares is known as the Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares and Mobile Homes (“Timeshares Division”). The Florida Timeshares Division licenses and regulates timeshares through education, complaint resolution, mediation and arbitration, and developer disclosure.

The Office of the General Counsel (“OGC”) of this division represents the interests of Florida residents and does not represent individual complainants. In most cases the Department, even with successful prosecution, does not typically recover money that a consumer has lost. Many consumers rightfully wonder what the likelihood of success would be if they take the time to file a complaint.

Statistically speaking, from April, 2014 through April, 2016, the Florida Timeshares Division received 2,360 complaints. Of those complaints, only 110 resulted in action by the Florida Timeshare Division – less than 5%!

The Better Business Bureau BBB

The Better Business Bureau is not a regulatory agency. It is a nongovernmental nonprofit that serves to promote a community of business that consumers can trust. The BBB does not solve consumer disputes. Success is not based on the outcome, but whether the business responded or not.

The BBB rating rates only how cooperative and responsive a business will be to consumer issues.

National Timeshare Owners Association

https://www.ntoassoc.com/

The National Timeshare Owners Association is a social purpose organization dedicated to educating, advocating and protecting ownership interests. For nearly 20 years, the NTOA has worked to ensure owners have access to resources available to them. As the oldest and largest member based association, NTOA works closely with other industry associations and stakeholders such as CRDA, TBMA, TATOC, CARE and FTOG. NTOA’s extended relationships include 12 domestic and international developers, HOA‘s and management companies. The NTOA seeks to find solutions to some of the industry’s most complex issues.

Summary and Conclusion

What avenues, if any, exist for the unwary consumer who gets pressured into purchasing a $25,000 to $100,000 or more timeshare interest with credit at a 14% to 19% annual interest rate accompanied by a lifetime and beyond maintenance fee obligation? A thriving resale scam industry exists due to the limited and sometimes nonexistent secondary market.  

It’s not until long after the contract is signed, or if the family experiences a life crisis, they learn that the purchase contract often contains no way out. In all likelihood, the perpetual contract was signed in a same day sale, after a sales presentation that lasted for hours. The elderly are targeted, according to several lawsuit allegations.

success

Given recent regulatory decisions and legal actions, a highway of hope is under construction.  

GET INVOLVED!

To perhaps state the obvious, the timeshare industry is a well-organized and wealthy industry that has the ability to lobby for favorable laws and treatment.  Contrast this with the average consumer who is economically stretching to afford a $25,000 timeshare interest.

Contact Inside Timeshare if you would like to learn more about organized efforts to reform an industry badly in need of reform. Thank you to timeshare companies working towards a safer and owner friendly timeshare industry.

We would like to thank all contributors to this article especially Mike Finn of the Finn Law Group.

Inside Timeshare is here to bring you the latest news on what is happening in the world of timeshare, at present we are very much focused on Europe and the US. We are however working on collaborating with writers in Australia, this will bring you the news on a worldwide scale. We would also like to hear from any owners in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. You can contact Inside Timeshare through our comments section or email direct to [email protected]

We look forward to hearing from you.

Globe flags