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How to File a Complaint

The Tuesday Slot with Irene

This week’s Tuesday Slot we publish a revised article on How to File a Complaint, but first a quick word on the article yesterday and the post on Timeshare Talk by Mr William Dobbs. We have had several emails from readers venting there disgust at the use of Ian Smart’s name considering he passed away.

Mr Dobbs you should think very carefully at what you write and who about, to use the name of a deceased person who cannot speak or defend himself is the lowest of the low. I have had emails from his personal friends and family, all demand the removal of his name and for you Mr Dobbs to publish an apology.

It is also clear that you have no idea what you are saying or writing, yes I do know many of the people on that list, after all it is my job to know, but much of it is so out of date it is laughable. One person who you mention as sales at Palm Oasis, has not even been in the industry for at least 15 years and as we stated yesterday, in any industry people will be acquainted with each other. So Mr Dobbs will his family and friends get the apology?

Now on with today’s article.

How to File a Timeshare Complaint (July 17, 2018 revision)

  

Start with the Attorneys General

If necessary, continue to the FBI at IC3.gov

Finish with the Federal Trade Commission, if Section 5 is violated

FTC Unfair Practices

An act or practice is unfair where it

  • causes or is likely to cause substantial injury to consumers;
  • cannot be reasonably avoided by consumers; and
  • is not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or to competition.

FTC Deceptive Practices

An act or practice is deceptive where

  • a representation, omission, or practice misleads or is likely to mislead the consumer;
  • a consumer’s interpretation of the representation, omission, or practice is considered reasonable under the circumstances; and
  • the misleading representation, omission, or practice is material.

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

“I was told that in order to be released from a timeshare I had owned for years, which was a deeded timeshare week, I had to turn the deed into points. Believing the sales agent, on June 19th I bought $12,000 worth of points for no reason. A few weeks after purchase I learned through Social Media the company has a voluntary surrender program.” (Example of an actual complaint)

Inside Timeshare has received 499 U.S. timeshare complaints as of July 16, 2018. All but a handful of complainants allege they had been sold a timeshare by deception. In all but a few cases, the member was dismissed with “You signed a contract” or “It doesn’t matter what the sales agent said.” If timeshare companies would acknowledge that some timeshare sales agents do intentionally mislead the consumer, there would be no need to file complaints and no reason for the existence of member supported advocacy groups.

According to FBI agents and lawyers our advocates have consulted, it is not legal to hide behind fine print, but it takes volumes of complaints to raise a regulator’s eyebrow. The Federal Trade Commission released its 2017 complaint report, listing travel, vacation, and timeshare as one of the most costly frauds at $1,710. Our reader complaints dollar amounts range from $4,000 to $400,000 or more. We wish members were only losing $1,710. Inside Timeshare has received complaints from 61 veterans and active duty military and law enforcement.   

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

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

Timeshare Members need to be especially vigilant about “Get you out of your timeshare” firms because many are scams. Some are not. Timeshare Advocacy Group™ (TAG) has a scam research team formed by members who have themselves been scammed. This 15 page US Department of Justice timeshare scam report illustrates the seriousness and extent of the problem, caused by the lack of a viable secondary market. Timeshare company annual and quarterly reports have mentioned a viable secondary market as a risk to investors.    

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

Advocates for reform feel the problems that exist in the industry today are caused by an overreliance on the oral representation clause, iron clad developer based contracts, the lack of an adequate secondary market, and limited enforcement. We don’t dispute there are many who use and enjoy their timeshare and many sales agents who sell the product properly, but here are the most common timeshare complaints reported by our readers:

  • The agent said I could easily sell my points,
  • The agent overstated the value of travel awards to pay for airline tickets, or the use of a travel credit card to pay maintenance fees,
  • The agent said I had to give up my deeded timeshare and buy points,
  • The agent said I have to give up my deed and buy points (or buy enough points to get to the next loyalty level) or my heirs will be burdened,
  • The rescission clause was dodged because the agent said the (bogus) program would not be available until after the first of the year, or we were  not allowed access to the booking site until after the rescission period.

To begin your complaint, raise your right hand.

Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God? Present your information factually and without opinion or inflammatory language.

Information Needed to File a Timeshare Complaint

Name (s) and age of member

Phone Number

State of Residence

Member Number

For each contract in dispute:

Where Purchased and Date of Purchase

Number of Points Purchased

Sales Agent and Sales Agent ID# (if available)

Purchase Price

Down Payment

Amount Financed and Interest Rate

Loan Number

Current Loan Balance

Name of Credit Card if one was used to pay the down payment

What do you want? Do you seek Refund or Relinquishment?

Why? Is it due to Deception, Health, Age or Financial Burden?

Complaints expressing dissatisfaction with general availability will go unheeded as will a request based on not being able to afford the timeshare. If you feel you were deceived, list the reasons why. If there was no deceit, ask for relinquishment. Maintenance fees must be current and there can be no loan outstanding. Just like your personal residence, you can’t go to your home mortgage lender and say you can’t afford it. The difference is you can sell your home if there is an outstanding loan.  

MOST IMPORTANT – Purchase Timeline

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

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

Mark your email to the resort urgent if you are in financial distress. It is best to file a complaint before the debt collectors are hounding. If one of our advocates is assisting the member, the member will report back to us if the issue is resolved. Due to the required non-disclosure, terms and conditions will not be discussed.

Attorneys General

If the resort has dismissed your complaint, the next step is to file a complaint with the Attorney General of the state where you signed your contract. It can take sometimes a month to hear back from an AG but once your complaint has been accepted, debt collectors are not allowed to call. You can find any Attorney General by searching the state name and Attorney General. Some states will direct you to the real estate or consumer division. You should file a complaint with the state Real Estate Division against the agent if the agent was deceptive. Not all states require timeshare sales agents be real estate licensed.     

We have determined, based on reports from our readers, some Attorneys General walk lockstep with the developer, responding to complaints with, “You should not have relied on verbal representations.” Thus, in those states, the consumer is out in the cold and at the mercy of the developer’s decision. In other states, Attorneys General have opened investigations and reached settlements based on a volume of complaints and a pattern of consistent reports of deceptive behavior.

The FBI

Any complaint reported to the FBI should be of a more egregious nature. “They promised me a free cruise but it wasn’t free” is an example of a complaint that is not serious enough for the FBI. Our opening example, describing a buyer told they had to give up their timeshare deed when that was not necessary, would merit an IC3.gov report. To determine if your complaint is serious enough to file an FBI complaint, review the FBI definitions of criminal acts:  

White-collar crimes are characterized by deceit, concealment, or violation of trust and are not dependent on the application or threat of physical force or violence. The motivation behind these crimes is financial—to obtain or avoid losing money, property, or services or to secure a personal or business advantage. These are not victimless crimes. A single scam can destroy a company, devastate families by wiping out their life savings, or cost investors billions of dollars (or even all three).

Mortgage fraud is a subcategory of financial institution fraud known as “fraud for profit”:

Fraud for profit: Those who commit this type of mortgage fraud are often industry insiders using their specialized knowledge or authority to commit or facilitate the fraud. Current investigations and widespread reporting indicate a high percentage of mortgage fraud involves collusion by industry insiders, such as bank officers, appraisers, mortgage brokers, attorneys, loan originators, and other professionals engaged in the industry. Fraud for profit aims not to secure housing, but rather to misuse the mortgage lending process to steal cash and equity from lenders or homeowners. The FBI prioritizes fraud for profit cases.

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

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

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

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

Summary of Regulatory and Law Enforcement Agencies

  • The Attorney General’s office where you signed your contract. Most AG complaints can be filed online.
  • The Real Estate Division of the state where the agent is licensed if your complaint is against the agent.
  • The FBI at IC3.gov portal if you feel you were deceived. For allegations of a serious nature you may also contact an FBI field office to file a tip orally. Have your facts and figures ready. The FBI complaint website is called IC3.gov which stands for Internet Crime. This is a bit confusing. IC is the name of the portal. That doesn’t mean it has to be an internet crime. Click IC3 as your choice when filing. Sometimes your local field office will pay closer attention than say Las Vegas, where losing money is a tourist attraction. You can find your nearest field office from this website. https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx
  • The Federal Trade Commission is one of the most important agencies to file with, because it is federal. Most states have incorporated a portion of the FTC’s “Unfair and Deceptive Trade Act” in their state law.   
  • The media – the court of public opinion is often the only court available. Inside Timeshare, published in Spain, welcomes member submissions, positive or negative.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for credit card or lending complaints, under the mortgage option (even if no mortgage), selecting the bank involved. Timeshare has dodged this regulatory bullet because most members don’t know the identity of the lender as the timeshare company often services the loan (Timeshare companies are not an option from the CFPB’s drop-down menu). CFPB is the organization that helped Wells Fargo victims. The CFPB lost influence after the roll back of the Dodd Frank act March 2018. The Dodd Frank act was enacted after the abuses caused by subprime lending. The CFPB is still considered a regulator. https://www.consumerfinance.gov/
  • File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. The company’s BBB rating can be misleading in that the BBB only rates how efficiently a company responds to complaints. Sometimes the BBB allows you to log in and file a rebuttal. If you file a complaint, a review is not allowed. We have received complaints from members reporting that a company representative called, saying the message is time sensitive, but does not answer the phone when the member repeatedly tries to call back. We suspect this boosts the company BBB rating because the company can report, “We reached out.”
  • Lawmakers – The problem is the timeshare buyer typically does not buy in their state of residence which is why lawmakers don’t seem to take timeshare seriously. Still, any effort to contact lawmakers is encouraged.

If this sounds like work, it is, but you can file with some, all, or none of the agencies. If you pick two, pick the Attorney General and the FTC. We have a team of advocates who can answer questions and help guide you through the process. We feel “Action and Advocacy” is the best way to change questionable timeshare business practices.  

Depending on the seriousness of your complaint, you may forward your complaint to the firm’s public relations office or firm and to ARDA, the timeshare industry’s PAC, for violating ARDA’s Code of Ethics. ARDA’s Code of Ethics can be found on ARDA’s website. ARDA ROC does not mediate disputes, but ARDA does have a Code of Ethics. Due to lack of response to about 200 of the more serious complaints we sent to ARDA, we do not recommend owners make the voluntary “opt in” or “opt out” ARDA ROC donation on your maintenance fee invoice. Not one of the members we questioned knew what ARDA ROC stands for, yet collectively gives ARDA ROC about $5 million a year. It is the opinion of our advocates, that although ARDA lobbies for the industry and for timeshare members, when the issue at stake is one that is at odds with members, members lose because they have no voice.

You may also forward your complaint to the Association of Vacation Owners. AVO has been tracking our complaints for research purposes. http://insidetimeshare.com/the-tuesday-slot-with-irene-3/

If you are granted a positive outcome, you may not say or write anything disparaging about the resort, but there is no harm in staying involved by referring timeshare members who need help to Inside Timeshare or to one of the self-help groups listed below we know are not industry influenced.  

Who We Are and Why We Do This

Our advocates are not attorneys and we do not provide legal advice. We have researched regulatory agencies and are here to direct consumers to the appropriate regulatory and law enforcement agencies. The right to file a regulatory complaint is the right of every citizen who feels they have been wronged.  

It’s a good idea to contact a member of the Licensed Timeshare Resale Broker Association to find out whether your timeshare has a secondary market. http://www.licensedtimeshareresalebrokers.org/

Venting on complaint sites has no effect whatsoever but an organized campaign to track complaints and report alleged fraud has already born fruit in the form of Attorneys General investigations and greater public awareness.

If all else fails, we will refer to an attorney if the member can afford one. If you are forced into foreclosure, but have an otherwise unblemished credit report, you can write to the credit reporting agencies in an effort to explain why you were deceived and why you were not able to resolve your dispute.

Contact Inside Timeshare or email Irene Parker at

[email protected] or call 270-303-7572 EST if you are interested in becoming a volunteer. Feel free to call any day of the week from 1:00 to 5:00 PM EST. It’s best to schedule a call. All calls and emails are returned within 24/48 hours.  If your email is not returned, please resend and send a text message.

Self-help groups seek to provide members a way to proactively address membership concerns; to advocate for timeshare reform; to obtain greater disclosure from the company; to advocate for a viable secondary market; and to educate prospective buyers.

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

http://tug2.net/

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

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

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

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

July 7, 2018 Irene Parker Timeshare Advocacy Group™     

Related article: FTC Section 5

http://insidetimeshare.com/fridays-letter-from-america-12/

That’s it for today, you now have all the information to be able to file a complaint, if you need any help with this or want to know about any company that has contacted you or you have found on the internet, then use our contact page and we will point you in the right direction.