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letter from america

Friday’s Letter from America

Welcome back to Friday’s Letter from America, last week we did change it to Australia to welcome our Aussie contributor Justin Morgan with his first article, which happened to coincide with Irene Parker’s first anniversary. Today we hear from our first Bluegreen owner, who also happens to be a detective in law enforcement, so this proves that all are vulnerable to the smooth talking sales staff.

Irene reported just as we were about to publishing today’s article, that four Diamond Members have been able to resolve their vacation issues this past week. Members tell us they appreciate having a human instead of a department to talk to. Previously members complained of continually having to start over with seemingly endless departments.

We hope other timeshare developers follow suit as timeshare complaints are widespread.

Now we have a look at what is happening in the European world of timeshare.

The National Police in Spain have busted a major scam being run from the Costa del Sol, they raided several premises and homes in the Velez Malaga – Torre del Mar area. Around 40 were detained, they included a husband and wife, son and daughter-in-law, along with it is reported two lawyers. The detained are mainly British, who have run several businesses in the area over a number of years, these targeted mainly British timeshare owners.

Police raid

The scams involved timeshare resales, holiday packages and discount clubs, this has over the years netted millions of pounds, with the police recovering around 100,000€ in cash, expensive watches, jewels and several high end cars.

It is believed the companies, which are well known by Inside Timeshare and other similar sites, are, Halfmoon Holdings, Excalibur Sales & Marketing, Blue Chip and Rosedale Marketing. The only problem is, when one of these raids takes place and they are put out of business, there are many others ready and waiting to fill the gap. No doubt, we will see a series of companies offering to help victims get their money back, for an upfront fee obviously. So readers beware!

Follow the links to read the stories in the UK tabloids.

https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/3952419/dozens-arrested-over-timeshare-scam-that-saw-500-brits-conned-out-of-life-savings-in-multi-million-pound-costa-del-sol-racket/?utm_source=TWITTER&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=SprnklrSUNOrganic&UTMX=Editorial%3ATheSun%3ATwImageandlink%3AStatement%3ANews

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/costa-del-sol-cops-uncover-10745713

On the legal front, it looks like those lawyers from Canarian Legal Alliance have been busy this week, with several announcements of cases won.

We started the week with a judgement from Tenerife against Resort Properties / Silverpoint followed on Tuesday with news that the Court of First Instance in Maspalomas GC, awarding a client who purchased at Anfi, over 59,000€ with their contract being declared null & void. Once again the court ruled that the contract was longer than the stipulated period of 50 years.

On Wednesday, the Court of First Instance in Arona Tenerife, again found against Resort Properties / Silverpoint, in this case the judge ruled the contract was missing information which is required by law, the period again was longer than the 50 years allowed, plus deposits were taken within the 14 day cooling off period.

The British client will now receive over £14,000 plus legal interest and has had their contract declared null and void.

On Thursday there were two announcements the first from Tenerife, the Chayofa Golf & Tennis Academy, was ruled against by the Court of First Instance, the contracts signed under the company United Sales 1997 Ltd were declared null & void. Again the infringements were the perpetuity contract and the illegal taking of deposits, the client will now receive over £9,000 plus legal interest.

Malaga Court

The second was from the High Court in Malaga, Club la Costa was found guilty with the contract being declared null & void. One of the main aspects of this case is the company is a UK registered Limited one, Club La Costa Leisure Ltd, which was probably an attempt to bypass Spanish law. As we have seen in the past, some companies have used this along with the clause that “this agreement and contract is subject to UK law and the jurisdiction of UK courts”, but it is evident now that this does not wash, if the timeshare was sold and the contract was signed on Spanish territory, then clearly Spanish law will apply.

Now on with our US Article.

A Bluegreen Member Responds to Timeshare Advocacy Group™

A detective shares her Bluegreen Timeshare experience

Complaint queue

By Irene Parker

Friday July 7, 2017

Typically our Inside Timeshare readers don’t contact us to report positive timeshare experiences so our email inbox often looks like the cartoon above. Today we hear from a Bluegreen member who found promises made did not meet what was purchased. Not as familiar with Bluegreen we checked internet sites and determined Bluegreen is a company that could use a customer satisfaction evaluation.  

Bluegreen members can join a member sponsored discussion Facebook consisting of 770 Bluegreen members. More and more timeshare members are launching sites where members can advise other members.

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

Timeshare Advocacy Group™ is an umbrella organization consisting of volunteers stretching from the EU to the US and beyond including contributors from the Philippines and Australia. A few complaints have little or no effect, but a volume of complaints, especially directed against individual sales agents, can paint a pattern of deception.

A complaint process has evolved over the past year. Working through resort representatives, volunteer Advocates assist other members as we work through the “3 Rs or F of Timeshare” – Resolution, Relinquishment, Refund or Foreclosure.

Here is our advice for those not knowing where to turn:   

  • Prepare a written complaint and request for resolution. Submit to the resort.
  • If the resort denies the request, file first with the Attorneys General of the state where you signed a contract, where you live, and where the timeshare is domiciled. Some Attorneys General are influenced by lobby dollars, so don’t be discouraged if your complaint is denied. There is still merit filing “for the record” because the Attorney General’s lack of concern can be quantified and reported. Some states refer you to a different department.
  • File a complaint with the state real estate division against the agent (ID #) if you feel the sales agent is at fault.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission because every state has incorporated some part of the FTC Consumer Fraud Act into their respective state consumer protection act.
  • Report your grievance to ARDA http://www.arda.org/ethics/ – this organization is the American Resort Development Association – Resort Owners Coalition. ARDA ROC does not resolve individual member disputes, but they do have a code of ethics that should be enforced. When the needs of the member and the developer diverge, lobby dollars go to the side of the developer, so think twice about the “voluntary” opt in or opt out donation to an organization that may not always serve your best interest. I have not been able to get the $7 donation removed from my account.   
  • The FBI definition of White Collar Crime – Financial Institution Fraud – is “deceit, concealment, violation of trust and bait and switch”. File a complaint with IC3.gov if this is the case. IC stands for Internet Crime, but your complaint does not have to involve the internet. That’s just the FBI portal for complaints. https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/white-collar-crime
  • File a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, although this agency has been vastly diminished due to the rollback of the Dodd Frank Act. According to a banker I spoke with recently, they are still the regulators. Given the CFPB’s diminished capacity, file with this agency only if a credit card played a part or there is a loan outstanding.
  • Reach out to local and national media. This is by far the most important and effective tool. Typically, timeshare buyers don’t buy a timeshare in their state of residence, so state lawmakers have expressed little interest and can also be influenced by lobby efforts. http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/taking-names-scott-maxwell/os-gov-rick-scott-signs-bad-timeshare-law-20150617
  • Become an Advocate for change by assisting other members with the process outlined above. Encourage others to stop venting and act. This is one example of a military family that was able to resolve their dispute through Timeshare Advocacy Group™ http://insidetimeshare.com/consumer-protection-week-usa/ and a hat’s off this 4th of July week to all those who serve in the military.
  • Last on the list is the Better Business Bureau. The BBB does not resolve complaints. They merely report how efficiently a company responds to complaints so ratings can be misleading.

None of the above agencies will act on behalf of a specific individual, but a volume of complaints can prompt an investigation. Tennessee, Colorado, New York and Arizona are four states where Attorneys General have opened timeshare investigations       

law enforcement

Our Bluegreen member complainant works in law enforcement. Lela Renea is a detective appalled that, even though she works in law enforcement, alleges she became the prey.   

Lela purchased 6000 Bluegreen points in Las Vegas March 2015 for $8,200. Lela alleges she was a victim of deceit and bait and switch for the following reasons:

  1. Lela was told if she purchased more points her maintenance fees would stay the same. The maintenance fees have increased from $560 a year in 2015 to about $700 a year for 2017.
  2. Lela was told she would receive a free cruise, but after all the fees and charges it cost as much as if she had booked it herself.
  3. Lela was told the Barclaycard had a low interest rate of 5% when in actuality it was 25%.
  4. Lela was not told she was entitled to 4000 bonus points. The points expired before she was aware of them.
  5. Lela was promised availability she says does not exist.
  6. Lela was showed a Presidential Suite that was said to be comparable to all Bluegreen accommodations.
  7. Lela was not aware she had purchased so few points it was almost impossible to find adequate availability.

Lela has sent Bluegreen a demand letter requesting a refund. She will be filing complaints with regulatory and law enforcement agencies if her demands are not met. Lela will become an Advocate.

Lela’s friend and co-buyer contacted Pinnacle Vacation to do a transfer but Lela is worried Pinnacle may be a scam.

https://www.complaintsboard.com/complaints/bluegreen-vacation-club-c4809.html

lawsuit

The following lawsuit was filed against Bluegreen but was dismissed October 2016. It voices many of Lela’s complaints. Again, the problem is the oral representation clause that timeshare attorney Mike Finn of the Finn Law Group has frequently described as “a license to lie”.

The BlueGreen Vacations Timeshare Sales Tactics Class Action Lawsuit is Kyle Miles, et al. v. BlueGreen Vacations Unlimited Inc., Case No. 1:16-cv-00937, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.

The plaintiffs are represented by Todd M. Friedman and Adrian R. Bacon of Law Offices of Todd M. Friedman PC.

BlueGreen Vacations Unlimited Inc. has been hit with a class action lawsuit that accuses the timeshare company of using “hard sell” tactics and misinformation to convince consumers to enter into timeshare contracts.

During the timeshare presentation, the plaintiffs were reportedly informed that, if they were not satisfied with the timeshare contracts BlueGreen was selling, BlueGreen would buy back the contracts.

According to the timeshare class action lawsuit, BlueGreen also misled the presentation attendees by representing that the timeshare contract’s maintenance fees would not increase, when in reality, the maintenance fees increase on an annual basis.

However, the plaintiffs allege that the terms that were actually contained in the timeshare contract are different than the terms promised during the timeshare presentation.

They also claim that they were pressured to open two BlueGreen credit cards and to put the entire $5,000 down payment on the cards.

advo

Our local Florida news station today reported vacation rentals, as opposed to hotel bookings, have increased from 50% in 2014 to 70% in 2016. Our readers continually express disappointment and dismay over what they describe as an escalation in deception and overly aggressive timeshare selling. These are mostly members who were happy with their timeshare until deception set in. We want timeshare to be a healthy and robust industry. If the developers and lobby organizations don’t heed the damage being done by sales agents “pitching heat”, one wonders how the industry can survive in the millennial’s world.

Inside Timeshare thanks Lela for coming forward. We look forward to a new collaborator as a lot of what we do requires the skills of a detective. It did not take long to explain the basis of an IC3.gov complaint to Lela.

So there we have it, another week over in the timeshare world, with some good news for many and the start of a judicial nightmare for others. Inside Timeshare thanks all those who sent in the information which helps to form our articles, again thanks to Irene for editing the US contributions, together we are making a difference.

weekend

 

us-eu-coop

The Wednesday Article from America

Following on from last week’s piece on the RDO’s use of an article in The Spectator, Irene Parker gives us the American take on it and how they are viewing timeshare in Europe.

One thing is for certain, they are looking to us for change in the way timeshare is sold in the USA, we have had many contact Inside Timeshare giving their stories, some are definitely “Nightmares on Timeshare Street”. This title has been used in three articles in the past, with stories that have hit home for many readers.

In this article Irene, interviews Timeshare Insider and author of Timeshare for Dummies, Lisa Ann Schreier, who we welcome as a new voice to our pages.

RDO – Are Unscrupulous Sales Agents a Thing of the Past?

A Timeshare Insider and one of 13 Platinum members respond

notes in hand

By Irene Parker

June 28, 2017

Inside Timeshare published a reality check response to Resort Development Organization’s article “Why Now is the Right Time to Reconsider Timeshare” offering an EU perspective.

http://insidetimeshare.com/rdo-selective-use-spectator-article-timeshare/

It is interesting to note an admission of guilt in this article as to the nature of the unscrupulous timeshare sales agent.

The Chairman of RDO is Susan Crooks, Director of Legal Services and European General Counsel, Diamond Resorts Europe, so the article is even more meaningful, considering her role. I have interviewed two EU Diamond sales agents. The agents said they refused to submit to the aggressive tactics imposed on American Diamond sales agents. One was the sales agent assigned to us when we stayed at Cala Blanca on Gran Canaria.

Here are excerpts from what RDO has to say about timeshare, followed by a report from one of the 13 Diamond Platinum members.

When you think of the word timeshare, what springs to mind? While for some it might be stylish and carefree getaways in your favourite holiday destination, for others it could just as easily be pushy salespeople trying to bamboozle you into signing an unwanted, lengthy contract.  Unfortunately, for a number of years the word timeshare has had negative connotations in the minds of many people, due to the often unethical and unjust way it was sold in the past. This is all changing though as the holiday market goes through a massive shakeup. Timeshare is evolving into something that everyone can enjoy!

In the past a proportion of timeshare was mis-sold to people through unscrupulous sales tactics from pushy sales people only interested in making a quick sale. People were persuaded to sign up for timeshare after lengthy and intense sales presentations which could last for hours. This included parting with large deposits on the same day. Now though, following strict restrictions imposed on developers by the European Timeshare Directive which must be followed by all shared holiday ownership companies operating within the EU, there is a ban on taking deposits on the day of the sales presentation from clients. In addition there is a mandatory 14-day cooling off period between a presentation and signing up for timeshare in which the individual is able to change their mind. The contract offered must also be in the client’s own language.

http://rdo.org/news/now-right-time-reconsider-timeshare/

In the EU and the US, the following groups have formed to protest and support other Diamond members.

  • DRIP website England, over 1,000 British members
  • Diamond Resorts Owners Advocacy 350 members

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.

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

  • Club Intrawest: The Owners Group 3300 members
  • Gold Key Owner’s Forum 65 members
  • COPP website: Concerned Owners at Poipu Point
  • Monarch Grand Vacations Owners Group website

All of the above websites and Facebook pages include concerned Diamond members who don’t know where to turn. Most of those contacting Inside Timeshare are existing Diamond members, but complaints from several timeshare companies abound, alleging deceptive sales practices:

  1. Sell Diamond Points,
  2. Cover Maintenance Fees,
  3. Transfer from US to HI points because only Hawaii can rent points or transfer to US because there will be HI assessments (one Diamond member said they were shown pictures in Virginia of decaying Hawaii air conditioners),
  4. Prevent heirs from being stuck with Diamond points (this benefit is already available).  

In an interview with Timeshare Insider Lisa Ann Schreier and Diamond Platinum members Alan and Debbie Callner that took place at Diamond’s Mystic Dunes Resort June 19, we discussed timeshares flawed business model and the consumer’s deplorable lack of timeshare knowledge. Since the timeshare buyer in many cases cannot rely on the honesty and integrity of the timeshare sales agent, we agreed an organized media campaign is the only answer. “The sales agent is always right. The customer is always wrong” seems to be the developer’s motto.

End of Story

jigsaw 4

No it is not

Lisa Ann Schreier, author of Timeshare for Dummies, has worked in the timeshare industry for approximately 20 years.

It was a quiet morning after “Event of a Lifetime” – a Diamond promotion celebration with country music artist Cole Swindell performing to a packed house. The restaurant was open but in transition from Integrity Golf to Diamond management, so the golf course was closed and the restaurant temporarily without a liquor license.

I asked Lisa if she has seen an upswing in predatory timeshare lending over the years. One of the roles of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was the enforcement of the Dodd Frank Act which has recently been rolled back by the Trump administration. I asked Lisa if she thought the rollback would lead to even more free-wheeling timeshare lending practices, especially in terms of non-verified income and generous lending limits.

“Timeshare lending has always been freewheeling,” Lisa explained. She provided a true story example told in parable fashion:

This happened many years ago when I was a timeshare sales agent. I was getting to know a gentleman who agreed to a presentation. One of the first things he said to me was, “I need to know if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your savior.” Somewhat taken aback, I informed the man that it might be best if I found him another sales agent as I am Jewish. Intrigued however, I asked the man what led to his conversion. He responded he had been converted in jail and had been released just a month earlier have fulfilled a lengthy jail sentence.

Thinking this was the end of my tour, I sought my manager to inform him that my potential customer was a NQ (not qualified). My manager advised me to proceed. “Proceed? Should I conduct a vacation survey? Will his income history be relevant?” Lisa questioned.

Alan and Debbie Callner and my husband and I sat mesmerized as Lisa shared other incredible and interesting timeshare stories with us as several sales agents filed past us with their potential customers following their Event of a Lifetime.

Alan and Debbie are one of thirteen Diamond Platinum members concerned with Diamond’s sales practices. Seven of the thirteen allege almost identical complaints all having taken place at Diamond’s Polo Towers or Cancun Las Vegas Resorts.

Inside Timeshare encourages our readers to report positive as well as negative timeshare experiences. Alan shared his check-in experience.

Alan was somewhat concerned about the check-in at Mystic Dunes after reading a post from a DRI Facebook Member who said she had been held captive for three hours at Mystic Dunes in a hard sell presentation to buy points after check-in.

In the Callner’s case, Alan and Debbie were whisked through VIP check-in. They were invited but not pressured to attend an update. In place of an update, Marcos came to their room with a gift bag chatting amicably about Orlando and local sites to visit other than the theme parks.

A non-invasive program for Diamond members who really have no desire or need to buy additional vacation points would be a real plus. We hope Alan and Debbie’s  comfortable check-in experience did not happen only because their account had been flagged as a member who filed a complaint with the Arizona Attorney General.

Alan and Debbie filed an AZ AG complaint alleging they had been sold 20,000 additional points by Rick Casper at Cancun Resorts in Las Vegas July 2016, convinced to buy an eighth timeshare contract because of a resale program that months later they found out was non-existent.

Allegedly, “Rick Casper told us we should contact him when we needed to sell points because he had people that would buy them. This was the only reason we upgraded from 30,000 points to 50,000 points. When we contacted Rick earlier this year, we learned from Dan Percy (Rick Casper’s immediate boss) that we could not have been told that and we might be able to sell them through a resale third party. We never heard a response from Rick Casper.”

“In addition, we asked Rick about combining our seven previous contracts into one contract covering all 50,000 points. Rick Casper (allegedly) advised us not to do so as it would be easier to sell smaller quantities of points and inferred he could do so easier having contracts in increments, as when someone wants to upgrade from Gold to Platinum requiring only 20,000 additional points.”

“The thought of being able to sell was a relief.”

Inside Timeshare has received 82 reader complaints. Some expressed only the desire to relinquish, but 53 Diamond members have alleged deceit and bait and switch. Of the 13 Platinum members, six filed almost identical complaints against Rick Casper. A report compiling complaints from all loyalty levels is being prepared. If the timeshare industry continues to deny problems on the front end of the sale, efforts will be directed towards regulators, politicians, law enforcement and the media. At some point the testimonies will be overwhelmingly compelling.

know your rights

The two timeshare owning families at our Mystic Dunes table owned timeshares for a collective 70 plus years. We all agreed, verified by Lisa, timeshare predatory sales and lending has escalated to a level never seen before, perpetrated by more than a few timeshare companies.

“No heat, no eat” is a mantra shared by the eight timeshare agents I interviewed who, at some point, decided their conscious would not allow them to stoop to the level necessary to exist in a timeshare world that has led to thousands of internet complaints and lawsuits.

We hope the new timeshare world order as described by RDO will migrate to America as the timeshare members Inside Timeshare has heard from, clearly feel America is nowhere near the hospitable and transparent timeshare world RDO describes.

In a way, we in Europe seem to be the lucky ones in the timeshare world, we have a system of regulation which is being enforced. It all started with the European Union bring out the first Timeshare Directives to protect consumers, although the industry did lobby for their own versions, the EU has continually strengthened them. Some countries have gone even further and added even stronger regulations, Spain in particular is leading the way.

Some of the regulations brought in and enforced by Spain include: Contracts no longer than 50 years; Floating Weeks and Points Clubs being outlawed; enforcing the 14 day cooling off period and the taking of any deposits even by a third party, within this period.

Another aspect Spain has included and is being used by the courts is the doubling of any payment made within 90 days, where the consumer did not receive all information required by law.

Timeshare could be a good product, but regulation is the key, for too long we have seen in Europe, resorts and developers running roughshod over consumers. Unfortunately we still do have some who only think of themselves, we have highlighted many of them within our articles in the past. The story of Mrs B and MacDonald Resorts, the recent story of the Ona Group at Los Claveles are just two. There must be change and the time for change is now.