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letter from america

Friday’s Letter from America

It’s time for another Friday’s Letter from America, with the recent hurricanes in the Caribbean and Florida, many owners and members have been asking how the damage affects them. Mike Finn of Finn Law Group explains this, with an introduction by Inside Timeshares very own Irene Parker.

Michael-D-Finn2
Michael D Finn

But as usual we start with some news from Europe, it has been a little quiet on the court front this week, with only three announcements made public.

All three involve the Tenerife based company Silverpoint, the first was at the High Court where the judge declared a contract null & void. He also ordered the return of over £40,000 plus legal interest. As usual the contract was over 50 years, deposits paid within the cooling off period and the contract did not contain the correct information required by law.

The second case against Silverpoint was from the Supreme Court in Madrid, once again this court upheld its previous judgements. The client in this case receives over 104,000€ plus legal fees and legal interest. They are also timeshare free.

The third case was another Supreme Court judgement against Silverpoint, this officially confirms the number of rulings by this court at 66. Again the contract was declared null and void, with the client awarded over £89,000 plus legal fees and legal interest.

Many readers this week have been contacting Inside Timeshare about ABC Lawyers, Timeshare Lawyers, Timeshare Compensation and off course the “new” Mark Rowe product Jive Hippo. (Not a name that conjures up confidence). Not to forget he also owns the TCA (Timeshare Consumer Association) and TimeshareTalk.

The comments from these readers have not been what you might call promising. Remember these companies are all owned by one person, who himself is an ex timeshare sales manager (Silverpoint / Resort Properties), turned gamekeeper. As with any company you may contemplate any business with, it pays to check, check and check again before you commit.

Amador Galeca Abogados, have been at it again, this time Andrew Cooper was named as the director of Personal Travel Group. Again he is pleading guilty. Now remember, Personal Travel Group was the successor to Incentive Leisure Group, owned by the late Gary Lee, of Timelinx and Designer Way Vacation Club fame. His partner Kim Bambrough also ran the call center at the old ILG office in Fuengirola, so Andrew Cooper had nothing to do with it all.

On the subject of this “FAKE” law firm, last week we reported that one reader managed to get their money back which they paid via bank transfer. It turns out that their banks fraud department managed to get this back from Deutsche Bank, where it was paid into the account of the “Procurador” Graham Ingum Gorrin.

We have also been informed that Sutton Hall have placed the information supplied to our reader on their members website, at least now the word is getting out.

So on with this week’s article.

How do Natural Disasters Affect my Timeshare?

natural disaster

What if a Timeshare Resort Suffers Damage?

By Mike Finn of the Finn Law Group

https://www.finnlawgroup.com/learning-center/what-if-timeshare-resort-suffers-damage

October 20, 2017

Introduction by Irene Parker

Given the severity of recent hurricanes, fires and earthquakes, Timeshare Advocacy Group™ has been receiving questions from concerned timeshare owners and members.

Of note are the relevant differences that come into play for right to use point programs compared to fixed week timeshares. Fixed week timeshares are defined as real estate, so the fixed week owner has the same problem as the owner of a primary residence. If a primary residence is demolished you may not be able to occupy the premise. Alternative lodging must be arranged and rarely does insurance make the owner whole again.

Do right to use point programs offer more protection?

In some ways, I think yes. The advantage of a fixed week timeshare is that you know what you own. You can see, feel and touch the week purchased. In a disaster however, that same benefit can work against the owner.

I contacted a team member at one resort. The company has property on St. Martin. The company’s right to use point owners are being refunded points for forfeited stays, but the company’s fixed week owners must book in other locations through an exchange service, and are unable to book St. Martin until 2020. Still, fixed week owners are fortunate to have this option because the owner on the other side of the exchange would not be able to stay at the owner’s demolished resort. Overall, industry insiders I contacted feel point members may have a layer of protection over fixed week owners when a disaster affects a single resort.

Does this mean right to use programs are better or safer overall?

Finn

Depending on vacation goals and lifestyles, right to use points may be the right choice. The Federal Trade Commission offers good advice. Of the points presented, the most important pieces of advice are:

  • Research the track record of the seller, developer, and management company before you buy. You also can search online for complaints,
  • Is everything the salesperson promised written into the contract? If not, walk away from the sale. (A standard resort rebuttal is, “You should have asked for anything of importance to you to be added to the contract.),
  • Don’t act on impulse or under pressure. (This is easier said than done, but better to forfeit a few perks than be saddled with a vacation plan you don’t want, can’t use or afford, with no exit and rising maintenance fees.)

This next FTC point is the least helpful as, according to complaints received by Inside Timeshare, sales agents often offer to be your vacation advisor or counselor until death you part, but many members tell us the person they were told to contact never returned phone calls, emails or text messages.

  • Get the name and phone number of someone at the company who can answer your questions — before, during, and after the sales presentation, and after your purchase.

https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0073-timeshares-and-vacation-plans

Mike Finn of the Finn Law Group answers the question,

Finn-Law--Main-Logo

What if a Timeshare Resort Suffers Damage?

Many, many timeshare resorts are located in areas where terrible storms and other “acts of God” happen with some frequency, such as Florida or the Caribbean – both of which have suffered extensively this hurricane season.

As business owners and locals rebuild and recover in the face of a cataclysmic storm or other disastrous event, timeshare owners looking on from spots across the country have their own unique worry: Namely, how they will be affected if their “home” timeshare resort suffers major damage.

There is a lot to unpack here! In our experience, though, timeshare consumers who are worried about their resort are predominantly concerned with two things –

  • How their ability to make reservations will be affected, and
  • Whether they can expect to pay more in assessments and fees.

To the first point, it is quite likely that your ability to use a timeshare resort may be affected by damage. Facing a loss of property or a labor shortage (as employees stay home for their own safety), many resorts may well be forced to close or suspend service temporarily, affecting the plans of those who already had reservations or who were planning on making them.

The second major issue that concerns many consumers: Whether or not they’ll feel the effects of a storm or other natural disaster in their pocketbook. Assessments and fees for repair costs will vary from resort to resort, based on the unique circumstances at play.

Certainly, though, timeshare consumers would be wise to remember the words of the Orlando Sentinel’s Caitlin Dineen, who notes:

“In some cases, owners could be asked to pay fees to offset repair costs if some damages don’t meet insurance thresholds or there are large deductibles that need to be met first.”

Let’s expand upon that. Should a resort be damaged, the bulk of the costs of repairs should be covered by insurance; Property Owners Associations (POAs) also have reserve funds designated for special situations (both of these are paid for, at least in part, by owners’ annual maintenance fees).

With that said, it’s important to remember that insurance rarely covers everything, and that the POA reserve is often insufficient to take care of the difference. As a result, timeshare owners will often end up paying something more out of pocket in the event of resort damage, be it for debris removal, landscaping services, or other costs that arise in the wake of a weather event.

Resorts and owners will be affected on a case-by-case basis. Following the massive fires earlier this year in Tennessee, for instance, many interval owners were relieved to hear that they likely wouldn’t be on the hook for fees after several resorts in the area suffered damage. Other owners will tell you a different story, such as those who “found themselves on the hook for nearly $5,800 in special assessment maintenance fees” after their Hawaiian resort suffered “water intrusion.”

Note from Irene: Mr. Finn is referring to Diamond Resort’s The Point at Poipu Resort and the resulting class action lawsuit filed by owners.

http://www.poipuowners.org/News.html

An important thing to remember

Recuerde

 It’s important to consider that information on matters such as these will be included in the documents you receive at the time of closing. While it may be difficult to parse through the language, taking the time to research your contract and POS documents can only benefit you in the long run.

Have any more questions or concerns? Don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Led by Attorney Michael D. Finn with 45 years of experience, the Finn Law Group is a consumer protection firm specializing in timeshare law. Our lawyers understand vacation ownership as well as the many pitfalls of the secondary market of timeshare resales. If you feel you have been victimized by a timeshare company, contact our offices for a free consultation. Know your rights as a consumer and don’t hesitate to drop us a line with any questions or concerns.

Thank you to Mike Finn for this very interesting article, also a big welcome to Tammy Arkley, who is a book editor and court reporting editor, who will be helping Irene with edits of the US articles.

That is it for this week, remember one thing, always check any company that contacts you or you may be thinking of doing business with, spending time to do your homework with save you thousands in the long term. If you need any help in doing this “homework” contact Inside Timeshare and we will point you in the right direction.

weekend

hand up

The Tuesday Slot: Giving You a Helping Hand

For many people it can be a daunting task to prepare a complaint against a large company, how is it written, who do you file it with? These are all questions that need to be answered.

In Europe the matter of making a complaint against a timeshare company has actually become easier, especially in Spain, where the laws are on the side of the consumer. But trying to deal with a company that has for the most part tied you up in contracts and legal jargon, has resulted in many complaints by consumers just being put aside with the feeling what is the point?

In today’s article Irene shows how to write the complaint and who to file it with, the most important point is don’t let it get you down there is always help out there. So on with the advice.

How to File a Timeshare Complaint

complaints

By Irene Parker

September 12, 2017

After Inside Timeshare received 135 US timeshare complaints (as of September 8, 2017), this guide evolved to use as a blueprint to file a complaint. Previously, we published an article called “The 3Rs or F of Timeshare” because no one should have to own anything in perpetuity if they can no longer use or afford the product.

http://insidetimeshare.com/part-ii-three-rs-timeshare/

How to File a Timeshare Complaint

  1. Name (s) and age of member
  2. Phone Number
  3. State of Residence
  4. Number of points owned per contract
  5. Member Number
  6. Loan Number  
  7. Current Maintenance Fees
  8. Total purchase price per contract
  9. Location purchased
  10. Sales agent and sales agent ID Number if available
  11. Original Loan Amount, Loan Number and stated interest rate
  12. Current Loan Balance
  13. What do you want? Do you seek Refund or Relinquishment?
  14. Why? Is it due to Deception, Health, Age or Financial Burden?

If your investment is $40,000 or less and you owned and used your timeshare for ten years or more consider relinquishment.

Availability:  Dissatisfied in general with availability complaints will go unheeded.

MOST IMPORTANT – Purchase Timeline

It is better to state your narrative as a narrative referring back to the contracts and figures at the top of your complaint. Begin with when you first became involved with the company and proceed chronologically. Keep your history brief up to the point when things began to go wrong.

The most common complaint is bait and switch. If you feel you were deceived list the reasons why.

who what

How Advocacy Works

Email Inside Timeshare your complaint if you would like to talk to someone about your concerns. Before you begin, raise your right hand. Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God? It is important to present your information factually and without opinion.

Consider becoming a volunteer report writer if you have reporting experience.

If you have questions, email Irene Parker – ireneparker377@gmail.com

Cell – 270-303-7572 EST – Feel free to call any day of the week between 1 to 5:00 PM EST or if you are unable to prepare your own report.

We are not attorneys and we do not provide legal advice. We have researched regulatory agencies and are here to direct consumers to the appropriate regulatory agencies. Agencies are listed below. We have also developed media relationships and will continue to work with broadcast and print media to alert the general public as to what questions to ask before buying a timeshare. Life events, like a hurricane, can change your life in an instant or a day. If your timeshare provides no secondary market, it can make a member feel a hostage to their vacation plan. Contact a member of the Licensed Timeshare Resale Broker Association to find out whether your timeshare has a secondary market.

http://www.licensedtimeshareresalebrokers.org/

After you complete your complaint email it to the appropriate resort department. Expect to be denied. Typically your resort reviewer will restate your concerns, conduct an investigation and report back that the sales agent (s) denied your claims. It’s a negotiation so if denied, file a rebuttal.

deneid

If you feel you are a victim of deceit and bait and switch, send us a copy of your complaint. An Advocate will file your complaint on your behalf with the firm’s public relations office and ARDA, the timeshare lobby, for violating ARDA’s Code of Ethics which can be found on ARDA’s website. We do not recommend owners make the voluntary opt in or opt out contribution on your maintenance fee invoice for ARDA ROC (Resort Owners Coalition). ARDA is basically a PAC that lobbies for the industry when the issue is one that is at odds with members. We will also include NTOA National Timeshare Owners Association and the bank that financed your loan or issued a credit card. By having the Advocate file on your behalf, we can track complaints, documenting a pattern of criminal behavior.

Mark your email urgent if you are in financial distress. It is best to file a complaint before the debt collectors are hounding. It may take up to 30 days to hear back from the resort. Resend in three weeks if you have not heard back. If you feel you were a victim of deceit and bait and switch, give the resort a week to respond before filing regulatory complaints.

The member will report back to us with a positive or negative outcome. Due to the required non-disclosure or mutual release form, terms and conditions will not be discussed. Just report a positive outcome or resolution.

If your resort denies your claim begin filing complaints with regulatory and law enforcement agencies beginning with the Attorneys General of the state where you signed your contract, where you live and where your resort is domiciled. It can take a month or more to hear back from an AG but once your complaint has been accepted, debt collectors are not allowed to call. You can find any Attorney General by searching the state and Attorney General.

office of ag

If there was an unauthorized credit card charge or you feel you were deceived into signing off on a loan, you should file with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under the mortgage option (even if no mortgage) and select the bank that financed your loan or issued a credit card. One common complaint is that the buyer was told they could get a lower interest rate from a bank or credit union. File with the CFPB only if there is a loan outstanding or a credit card was used.

You should file a complaint with the state Real Estate Division in the state where the agent is licensed if your complaint is against a sales agent. The Advocate can help you if you don’t know the agent ID number. Timeshare sales agents are real estate licensed in most states.

File with the Better Business Bureau, although the company’s BBB rating can be misleading in that the BBB only rates how efficiently a company responds to complaints.

The definition of Financial Institution Fraud under the FBI’s definition of White Collar Crime is “deceit, concealment, violation of trust and bait and switch”. The FBI assigns Financial Institution Fraud the highest priority. You can read about White Collar Crime on the FBI website, but complaints are filed at IC3.gov. This is somewhat confusing because IC stands for Internet Crime and people think it has to be internet related. IC3.gov is just the name of the portal.

fbi

 

Most important, consider reaching out to local or national media. Reporters look for content and are surprisingly easy to reach. Write an article about your experience. The more people who come forward, the more the public is made aware of pitfalls before engaging in a timeshare sales presentation.

Our “Chicken Soup for Timeshare’s Soul” Inside Timeshare article is linked at the end of this article explaining what to expect or not expect when you file with a regulatory or law enforcement agency.

Summary of Regulatory and Law Enforcement Agencies

  • Attorneys General where you signed, where you live and where the resort is domiciled. Search (state name) Attorney General for contact information. Most AG complaints can be filed online.
  • The Real Estate Division of the state where the agent is licensed if your complaint is against the agent. “Right-to- use” membership programs are not defined as real estate, but the agent is typically a licensed real estate agent.
  • The FBI under the IC3.gov portal if deceit or bait and switch.
  • ARDA if you feel ARDA’s code of ethics has been violated.
  • The media – the court of public opinion is often the only court available. Inside Timeshare, published in Spain, publishes timeshare articles online focusing primarily on the need for reform and oversight.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under the mortgage option selecting the bank that issued the travel credit card or financed your loan.
  • The Federal Trade Commission – due to lack of secondary market
  • The Better Business Bureau
  • Lawmakers – The problem is the timeshare buyer typically does not buy in their state of residence which is why lawmakers don’t seem to take timeshare seriously. Still, any effort to contact lawmakers is encouraged.

If this sounds like a work, it is, but you can file with some, all, or none of the agencies. We feel “Action and Advocacy” is the way to change questionable timeshare business practices. Change requires volumes of complaints.

What to expect from regulatory agencies

http://insidetimeshare.com/chicken-soup-timeshares-soul/

Life without timeshare through “The 3Rs or F of Timeshare”

http://insidetimeshare.com/3-rs-timeshare-part-1/

If you are granted a positive outcome, you may not say or write anything disparaging about the resort, but there is no harm in staying involved. Reach out to others when you stay at resorts. Create a business card type flyer.

Who We Are and Why We Do This

working others

The timeshare industry is wealthy and powerful, able to influence politicians and Attorneys General. Timeshare owners typically are struggling with maintenance fees, unorganized and alone. Venting on complaint sites has no effect whatsoever.

There are a number of timeshare members and non-timeshare member advocates working behind the scenes to assist in the complaint process. If all else fails, we will refer to an attorney if the member can afford one. If you are forced into foreclosure, but have an otherwise unblemished credit report, you can write to the credit reporting agencies in an effort to explain why you were deceived and why you were not able to resolve your dispute.

After retiring from Edward Jones working as an Investment Representative, I worked three years as a CASA supervisor, writing and editing court reports for Family Court on behalf of foster children. I find two commonalities between children of abuse, neglect or dependency and deceptive timeshare sales.

  • The abnormal becomes the normal. After hearing 136 complaints (as of September 5), I fear deception is endorsed and encouraged by some timeshare companies. I have interviewed nine current and former timeshare sales agents and managers. They call it “pitching heat” or “No Heat, No Eat”. Of course not all sales agents are dishonest. We hear primarily from buyers seeking assistance when victimized by unscrupulous agents.
  • Victims are silenced and isolated via non-disclosure agreements. Non-disclosure is appropriate in the case of a settlement, but when a family receives nothing after an alleged bait and switch, after spending $5,000 to $500,000 or more on a vacation plan, not allowing the victim to say anything disparaging about the company seems harsh. Many of the families we have worked with are financially devastated.

There are many who use and enjoy their timeshare. My husband and I owned three timeshares for 25 years with no problems or complaints. After we attended a pathetically aggressive sales presentation in 2015, I began researching the industry, writing articles and assisting timeshare victims. I am not compensated by anyone. Our Advocacy Group is composed of volunteers. We hope there will come a day our Advocacy Group is not needed.

Self Help Groups

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

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

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

September 12, 2017 Irene Parker Timeshare Advocacy Group™  

Although this article is aimed at our American cousins, the principle of how it is written will be the same for Europe. If you believe your complaint is valid, don’t give up, that’s what they want you to do, be persistent, be strong and seek help, it is out there.

In Europe the EU has set up many consumer agencies, most EU countries have consumer rights groups and Consumer Affairs offices. In the UK there are several that you could use, one which has been very good in the past is the Trading Standards Office, these are set up by local councils and have a lot of clout. They have also been instrumental in having some rather shady companies closed down.

Then there is legal action, employing a law firm to take your case to court, in Spain over the past few years this has been very successful. Law 42/98 and the updated version Law 4/12, is based on the EU Timeshare Directives, which were put into place to protect consumers and regulate the industry. Spain now has the strongest timeshare regulations in Europe, these along with other civil consumer laws protect consumers from unfair practices and contracts. These have been strengthened over the past couple of years with around 57 rulings from the Supreme Court, Spain’s highest court, which has removed any doubt about their interpretation.

It now remains for other EU countries to do the same, so no matter where you purchase, the same protection is available. We may even just see a change in the industry for the better.

If you require any further information about this or any other article, contact Inside Timeshare and we will point you in the right direction.

Inside Timeshare also wants your stories,

good, bad or downright ugly,

so if you have something you would like to share or think will help others,

then

hear from you

 

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

 

consumer protection week

Consumer Protection Week USA

Consumer Protection in Europe is governed by the EU Commission, each country within the EU also has their own consumer protection laws in their own legislation. Much of this comes from directives laid down by the EU Commission, the same way as the EU Directives on Timeshare.

In the UK, the Trading Standards Institute has an annual National Consumer Week, this has been running since 1989. It is a consumer education campaign run by the Consumer Protection Partnership (CPP) and is usually at the end of November to the beginning of December.

Each year it focuses on different themes from buying a car to the quality of goods and customer care. The main focus is to educate the public on their rights, how to deal with complaints and who to turn to for help.

There are also many other avenues where consumers can receive help and advice, one of the most notable is “Which”, they have for many years published a magazine giving advice on various goods and highlighting major recalls. They produce many other publications free of charge including very simple guides on using computers, lap tops etc.

The Citizens Advice Bureau is also another well known place for help and guidance. Most towns have one and they will cover many areas of concern from benefits, problems with employers to financial problems. They tend to be run mainly by volunteers, but have experts such as lawyers and financial advisors on call.

In the field of timeshare there is a great lack of real advice, it is unfortunate that the 2 main organisations that give consumer advice will send consumers to TATOC. As we have highlighted in the past, this organisation is funded by the industry and is virtually run by them. Take a complaint about your resort, you will be told to contact them, as they will not intervene. Not a very good way of giving advice, sending a complaint to the ones that are the cause of the complaint.

In the Article by Irene Parker today, she highlights servicemen who have fallen foul of the high pressure selling tactics. In the UK several years ago there was a company that was preying on servicemen and their families, they set up a vacation club or what we know as a discount members club. It cost upwards of £6000 to join, with many servicemen taking up the offer.

As with many of these clubs the servicemen did not get what they paid for, with the so-called discounts being far more expensive than what was available on the highstreet. Many complaints went to the MOD, and this company has not been heard from since. Luckily many of those who paid did so on their credit cards and were able to retrieve the payment from the card provider using the Credit Consumer Act.

It is a very sorry state, when servicemen who put their lives on the line in defence of their country are treated in such a way. The most annoying aspect of the above example was many of the sales reps were themselves ex-servicemen, using this as a tool to gain trust.

Inside Timeshare hopes the following article will be of help to those caught foul some of these unscrupulous tactics.

http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/index_en.htm

https://www.tradingstandards.uk/practitioners/events/national-consumer-week
Consumer Protection Week March 5 -11

Who needs protecting? The elderly, the ill, the divorced, the unemployed, the Army and the Navy

man cash

By Irene Parker – March 6, 2017

Consumer Protection Week in the US is sponsored by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). More than 100 federal, state and local agencies, consumer groups and national advocacy organizations will participate in the 19th Annual National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW), held March 5-11, 2017. NCPW is a nationally coordinated campaign to inform Americans of their consumer rights while providing them access to free consumer-related resources.

Do Timeshare consumers need protecting? One need only review the 15 page Department of Justice report on Timeshare scams to answer with an unequivocal “Yes!”

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

What questions should people ask before buying a Timeshare? Should you make a $20,000 or more decision the same day without comparison shopping? Should you believe a word a sales agent says? Should you finance your vacation plan?

Timeshare Tip – Take your eye off the finger pointing to the low monthly payment, raise your head and ask, “At what Interest Rate?”

It’s surprising how many we talk to who did not know the interest rate they were paying until they started paying. I was two hours into our sales presentation, mesmerized by the numbers, before I thought to ask.

Today we use the example of a family who failed to ask these questions and are now devastated by a vacation plan that has turned into a nightmare. I use Diamond Resorts as an example, but they should not be singled out. I am a Diamond member so in contact with other members. Many Timeshare companies have complaints.

We hear a lot about the elderly being targeted, but in one week I heard from four military families. One is a Veteran, one family has a son in the military, and two are on active duty. We’re hearing a lot in the US press these days about how Veterans have not been treated fairly so a story about a Navy family is timely.

As the family has been referred to Diamond Resorts Consumer Advocacy Department, and an outcome is yet to be determined, we will call this couple William and Mary. This newly formed Diamond Advocacy Department has reached out to many of our Facebook members helping owners resolve issues and better learn how to use DRI vacation Points.

William and Mary feel they have been victims of fraud or “bait and switch”. They are requesting a full refund. Let’s weigh in on whether this case meets this simple definition of fraud: Wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain.

William, age 47 is on active duty with the Navy, stationed at Norfolk, Virginia. An able bodied seaman, William is waiting on orders to be shipped overseas.  Mary, age 43, works for the Department of Agriculture. They have two children ages thirteen and eight.The summer of 2015 William and Mary booked a week at a Diamond Resort in Virginia by renting through RedWeek. They accepted an offer to attend a sales presentation. Mary does not remember the name of the sales agent (Vacation Counselor) in Virginia, but remembers he was a former Secret Service agent. The family purchased 15000 vacation Points for $63,232 or $4.22 per point. The current balance, financed at 14%, is approximately $43,395.

“Our original 50 minute presentation ended up to be 5 hours. We were told by the Virginia supervisor, a lady with a British accent, that we would have no problem getting a lower interest rate financed outside of Diamond since William was in the service.  All we would have to do is supply the lender with “duty orders” and it would go down to 1.5% as long as he was overseas,” Mary reported. The family later learned banks will not finance Timeshares, so that option was not available.

Anxious to try out their new vacation plan, the family booked a trip to stay at a Diamond Resort in Orlando. Now an existing owner, they were encouraged to attend an “owner’s update” which is always accompanied by an offer to buy more Points. The promised 55 minute update lasted three hours.

Orlando Sales Agent Joaquin told the family that since they now lived in Florida, they would be required to transfer the Points they purchased in Virginia to Florida.

The agent might have been alluding to a “Collection” as Diamond has a US, Hawaii, California and a few other Collections. There is no Florida Collection, but the family paid $4,898 as a down payment to transfer and buy more Points.

 “Joaquin promised to help resell our Points if we needed to. When we realized we could not afford the loan, I made a few calls and emailed Joaquin for assistance, but I was just ignored altogether,” reported Mary.

William was transferred to California. A Diamond Sampler package is ordinarily sold as a trial package, but on another trip to Orlando, the couple purchased a Sampler from Joaquin hoping William could stay at Diamond Resorts in California while stationed there. A loan of $1,100 financed by Diamond at 12.99% was obtained, but ultimately the three purchases were consolidated into one loan.

In William and Mary’s own words, here is why they feel they were misled:

“During the sales pitch we were told information that we discovered later was not true.”

  1. We were told the Timeshare is tax deductible and that we could later sell for a profit.
  2. We were told we could rent the Timeshare for additional income or help offset the Maintenance fees.
  3. We were told we would be able to refinance at a lower interest rate with any financial institution.
  4. We were told the sales agent would act on our behalf as a personal representative and help rent out our Timeshare.
  5. We were told that this Timeshare was an INVESTMENT!

By now, the family realized they had made a mistake and were deep in debt. December of 2016, while living in Jacksonville, FL the family was called and invited to a dinner of owners to discuss their account and give insight to how better to use Points. (Note: Buyers of Points don’t “own” anything as it is a right-to-use program similar to a country club)

William and Mary informed the Diamond caller they wanted to opt-out and were told a representative would be there to help start the process. However, when they went to the dinner, it turned out to be another high pressure sales tactic to get them to buy more Points with Apollo.

(Note: Apollo Global Management acquired Diamond in an all cash $2.2 billion deal September of 2016, as reported by Gretchen Morgenson of the New York Times prior to the acquisition.)

As of July 13, Diamond’s top executives and directors beneficially owned almost 23 million shares in the form of options and company stock. If the transaction is completed, a filing stated, those 15 people “would be entitled to receive an aggregate amount of $624,131,129 in cash. The bulk of that will go to Stephen J. Cloobeck, Diamond’s founder, and Mr. Palmer, the chief executive. Mr. Cloobeck would be entitled to $384 million and Mr. Palmer would receive $173 million.

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/07/business/accounting-error-may-not-derail-a-deal-but-ex-director-bails-early-anyway.html

Back to William and Mary:

navy

William and Mary told their hosts that they had a life change and could no longer afford their Maintenance fees or loan payments and wanted to relinquish their ownership (membership) per the buy- back program that they said they had.  At the meeting the account representative said Diamond did not have this program.

“Jose, the Supervisor, recommended we buy more Points as that would lower our Maintenance fees by taking back the Sampler. We were also financing the Sampler, so he said they could keep my monthly payment the same. After we left the presentation I reached out a few times to our original sales agent only to be told he no longer worked there. After we purchased the Sampler, we got called about 2 or 3 times a month by different account managers. At this point I could not even tell you the person’s name, but that was the last contact,” said Windy.

Where does the family go from here?

which way

“William has had a major loss in pay and we can’t afford the loan payments.”

Part II will provide a flow chart of options the family is facing.

Diamond is fond of boasting about how 70% of sales are sold to existing owners. William and Mary’s story is not unusual. I have reported our own personal Diamond story so many times, I dare not tell it again, but I have also heard from dozens of families telling the same story told over and over – existing Diamond owners told their Maintenance fees and availability issues would be resolved by buying more Points.

Again, Diamond is not alone. Based on my research, I have opinions on which Timeshare companies are the three worst offenders and which are the best, based on a census of online complaints, but that topic is for a future discussion.

Our Arizona Attorney General Assurance of Discontinuance article provides a blueprint for honesty and contains several items from William and Mary’s fraud checklist. Let us know if you think this family meets the definition of fraud.

Diamond has implemented a Clarity program in Arizona in response to the AOD.

http://insidetimeshare.com/arizona-attorney-generals-assurance-discontinuance/

Diamond Clarity is not limited to just one state. It’s a national program that includes four new operational initiatives. One of these initiatives is recording quality assurance sessions subject to consent from purchasers, to review compliance with all policies and procedures, and to augment and enhance the company’s sales and quality assurance training.  The company has invested in technology to ensure that these recordings can be archived and searchable. Recording sales presentations would not meet these objectives and thus are not currently part of the Diamond Clarity program,” according to DRI PR spokesperson Maya Pogoda.

Maya and I have had several healthy and interesting discussions about Clarity. I am concerned about the QA recording. In my opinion, I feel it will only strengthen Diamond’s position in court. As you can see from this article, the worn down member or prospect merely nods during the QA session checklist and none of the oral representations would be in that recording. I have learned recording without the other person’s knowledge is legal in Arizona as long as it is not wiretapping by phone.

http://wilcoxlegal.com/bugging-and-tape-recording-conversations-in-arizona-is-it-legal/

At least Members are having discussions with Diamond. I think it might be a first and I thank Maya and the staff of Consumer Advocacy for their involvement and support. Inside Timeshare wants to get it right!

Coffe time

stop pressOfficial DRI Response has just been received:

“The options for any timeshare member or owner struggling to keep up with loan payments financed at 12% to 19% and rising maintenance fees are:

Surrender, Resolution, Foreclosure, Refund

A Diamond representative spoke to the family today to gather facts”.

Inside Timeshare will walk with this family along the road to timeshare recovery.

An upcoming article will take a look at the four options, the likelihood of each option, the process of foreclosure and its impact on credit reporting comparing and contrasting European and American processes.

Some resorts have the option of resale. The seller would be fortunate to recover 10% of the initial amount invested, but at least owners with this option are not solely at the mercy of the timeshare company.

Inside Timeshare would like to thank all those who contributed to Irene’s article, without your help we would not be able to highlight the problem or bring about much needed change.

On another note, news just in but not verified 100%, it would appear that Diamond Resorts Europe has now closed all sales decks which were run on a franchise basis. From reports this morning the only sales decks open and trading in Europe are those run and owned by Diamond.

With what has happened in the past few months with Diamond selling off their last concern in Mallorca, the question being posed now is are they getting ready for a major sell off?

When the news comes in we will be reporting it here, so stay tuned.

 

complaints

Call for Change in the US Timeshare Industry

Continuing with our US timeshare theme, Irene Parker today highlights some of the problems that beset consumers in the USA, she asks the question who do consumers go to when they have a problem or complaint?

In this article she tells the story of an elderly couple Kathie and Wes Olds, who are Diamond Platinum members, 50,000 points, the concerns they raise about the constant upgrades and how they were encouraged to open a Diamond ResortsBarclaycard”. By using this card for purchases they could earn a 1.5% cashback award that could be used towards maintenance fees. As they found out later, it was not going to be that easy.

Irene also explains how the Olds, were told they could use their points towards the $8,200 a year maintenance fees at $0.50 a point, only problem is to be eligible they would need to purchase more points. As Irene put it previously the Olds were now part of the “Continuous Money Making Machine”.

Enjoy the article, it is certainly an eye opener.

FTC = Federal Trade Commission

FBI = Federal Bureau of Investigation

Is the FTC or FBI an avenue for Change for Diamond and other Timeshare Owners Devastated by Little or no Secondary Market?

By Irene Parker

Inside Timeshare

December 5, 2016

burglar

Timeshare today has been reduced to high pressure, often hours long sales presentations demanding prospects sign a perpetual contract today or lose incentives and perks that will be gone forever. The contract language often includes, “Heirs, successor trustees and personal representatives bound by the contract obligations.” Throw in the limited or nonexistent secondary market and you have a recipe for disaster.

Inside Timeshare previously told the story of the Saldana family. The family has since surrendered their Diamond contracts due to rising maintenance fees. Remaining is a $33,000 home equity loan. With legal help, they quite possibly could have been released from a timeshare loan. Timeshare buyers are often encouraged to obtain a home equity loan due to timeshare’s 14% to 18% loan interest rate. This conveniently lets the timeshare developer off the hook when the owner can no longer afford the rising fees.

http://insidetimeshare.com/irene-parker-write-barclay-card-usa/

The Saldana family was encouraged to open a Diamond ResortsBarclaycard” to become a Diamond platinum member so that they could charge their maintenance fees. A Diamond “point” historically costs $2 to $4 a point, but if used for maintenance fees, is worth only a few pennies on the dollar. They declined.

The Olds Family did open a Barclaycard.

Kathie and Wes Olds, ages 68 and 69, acquired enough Diamond points to become Platinum members. Like the Saldana family, the maintenance fees have become cost prohibitive. The Olds family own 50,000 Diamond points.

At their last Diamond “Owner’s Update” at Mystic Dunes in Orlando, Wes and Kathie expressed their concern over rising maintenance fees. The sales agent said they were in luck. Apollo Global Management, the private equity firm that purchased Diamond in a $2.2 billion buyout this past September, said effective February 2017 owners could “cash in” their points for $.50 a point and use them to pay maintenance fees, but they would need to buy another 10,000 points for $37,000. The sales agent suggested a home equity loan. Remember, we said points historically have sold for $2 to $4 a point.

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