Browse Tag

Michael Brown

Friday’s Letter from America

Welcome to this week’s Letter from America, today Inside Timeshares Irene Parker reports on a Lawsuit filed on behalf of 10 former Wyndham employees. This suit was filed under the Florida Private Whistleblowers Act in the Judicial District of Pinellas County, Florida Civil Division. This follows on from a previous article first published in 1 December 2016, where Whistleblowers exposed timeshare sales tactics, it was also where we reported on Trish Williams being awarded $20 million by a San Francisco jury for unfair dismissal after she exposed Wyndhams tactics. But first the latest news from the Spanish Courts.

For one British family they are nearing the end of a long road in their fight against Anfi Resorts, the Court of First Instance Number 4, in Maspalomas Gran Canaria has declared their contract null and void. The basis of this decision is the contract did not follow that stated under Spanish Timeshare Law 42/98.

The Hope family are now timeshare free and will soon be able to enjoy the money awarded, as the law firm Canarian Legal Alliance has already begun proceedings to enforce the sentence and have the money paid out as quickly as possible.

Mr & Mrs Hope

On the subject of enforcing sentence, one Norwegian family have now been awarded 49,226€ with their contract with Anfi Resorts being declared null and void, on the grounds that it did not include any tangibility and was detrimental to the consumer.

After enforcement of sentence proceeding by their lawyers at Canarian Legal Alliance, this money is now safely in the clients own bank account.

So contrary to many posts on various forums and claims by timeshare companies, clients are receiving payment, so congratulations to both families.

Now for today’s article.

A Lawsuit Filed on behalf of 10 Former Wyndham Employees

Filing #82214691 filed 12/17/18

Timeshare Exit Team Responds to Manifesto

Arizona Timeshare Bill to Safeguard Timeshare Buyers Opposed by Timeshare Lobbyists and Developers

By Irene Parker

February 22, 2019

A lawsuit was filed under the Florida Private Whistleblower Act (Florida Statute 448102(3)) on behalf of ten former Wyndham employees in the Judicial District of Pinellas County, Florida Civil Division against Wyndham Vacation Club. Plaintiffs include eight former sales agents. Plaintiffs allege that they objected to and refused to participate in illegal timeshare sales practices. This lawsuit parallels the former Wyndham California sales agent Trish William’s lawsuit in which a jury awarded Ms. Williams $20 million November 2016.

According to the Florida statute, “An employer may not take any retaliatory personnel action against an employee because the employee has….Objected to, or refused to participate in any activity, policy, or practice of the employer which is in violation of a law, rule, or regulation.”

Florida House Bill 435, introduced by Freshman Representative Wyman Duggan seeks to protect timeshare members from unfair and deceptive sales practices perpetrated by timeshare exit companies.

The timeshare industry lobbyists and developers lump legitimate law firms and lawyers in with lawyers employing questionable business practices, with a goal to prevent members from seeking any legal counsel if they feel they experienced unfair and deceptive timeshare sales practices.

Timeshare Accountability Group™ maintains a member need not retain a law firm or an exit company. Our Supporters answer questions about regulatory filings as the process can be daunting. However, some members do not have the time or temperament to withstand our process, which we admit is arduous.

In Manifesto Part I the author compared third party exit companies to Ponzi Schemes. This prompted a response from Timeshare Exit Team:  

“For the past seven years, as Timeshare Exit Team has grown from a local, Seattle-based company to a national brand, we have remained focused on honesty, integrity, and transparency. We exit burdened timeshare owners legitimately by facilitating transfers, voluntary deed-backs to resorts, or using attorneys to litigate against timeshare developers when necessary, and offer a 100% money-back guarantee. To date, we have successfully exited 16,000 timeshare owners. Our goal is not just to provide a valid exit for owners who find themselves with no realistic solution to get out of their timeshare, but also to transform the industry. For that reason, we are proud to be a founding member of The Coalition to Reform Timeshare. In solidarity with our Coalition partners, we are pushing for a Consumer’s Bill of Rights for timeshare owners–and would-be owners–that seeks to create a 24-hour cooling-off period prior to signing a timeshare contract, to  lengthen rescission periods to 14 days, to force full disclosure in timeshare presentations, and to give timeshare owners booking rights over the general public. Our passion is to be able to serve every single one of our clients AND to support those who wish to keep their timeshare, but just want a level playing field with the developers.”

Given Timeshare Accountability Group™ recommends not paying anyone to get out of a timeshare, we find ourselves an unlikely ally with Timeshare Exit Team as we are also a founding member of The Coalition to Reform Timeshare.

There are many timeshare exit scams, but there are also many scam timeshare sales agents. Inside Timeshare has heard from 705 families reporting allegations our ten Wyndham former employees say they were forced to employ or be “starved out” of their jobs.

In the Wyndham lawsuit, plaintiffs were employed by Wyndham’s Florida Clearwater Beach Resort which opened in 2017. Plaintiffs include eight former sales agents, a business operations coordinator and a community marketing agent. Plaintiffs say they were enticed by a supposed once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of the opening sales team where they were promised yearly profits in excess of $500,000.

The allegations described in this December 2018 class action read like a broken record to Charles Thomas and me. We hear on a daily basis, identical complaints from timeshare buyers from a variety of timeshare companies. Many were existing members who trusted the company, buying more points in order to be eligible for programs that did not exist, like the ability to sell back points to the company. Timeshares have virtually no secondary market.

We also have received many complaints from timeshare buyers who said they did not realize a credit card had been opened or charged. They report being told to “fill this out so we can determine if you are eligible” when in actuality a credit card was opened and charged. Electronic signing doesn’t help as initials are stored and then, tap, tap, tapped to completion.

According to the Wyndham December 2018 complaint, allegations (edited for brevity) in violation of Florida statutes, include:  

18. Plaintiffs allege supervisors regularly instructed them to intentionally confuse and mislead buyers or “wear them down” so they would buy property.

19. Supervisors instructed Plaintiffs to misrepresent the price of the timeshare through the use of point charts, specifically Wyndham’s “Clearwater Beach Resort Points Chart” fraudulently showing buyers the “RCI Points Chart” which depicts substantially cheaper points – in many cases less than half the actual cost.

20. Supervisors instructed Plaintiffs to fraudulently advise buyers that the timeshare was an investment.

21. Supervisors instructed Plaintiffs to fraudulently advise buyers that the property was not a timeshare.

22. Supervisors instructed Plaintiffs to fraudulently misrepresent to buyers the effect of completing a credit application. Plaintiffs were instructed to advise buyers that the credit application would only be a “soft hit” or that it was not a credit application at all.

23. Supervisors instructed Plaintiffs to fraudulently alter the buyers’ income level on their credit application, if needed, for them to be approved for credit financing.

24. Supervisors instructed Plaintiffs to fraudulently advise buyers that Wyndham would buy back their property if they were not satisfied with it.

25. Supervisors intentionally preyed upon the elderly in the use of unethical and illegal sales tactics.

26. Out-of-state residents not eligible to purchase Clearwater Beach Resort properties directed plaintiffs to fraudulently advise such buyers to purchase “Club Wyndham Access” that would give them access to other Wyndham properties, and that they could transfer their interest to Clearwater Beach Resort, even providing a form letter explaining this, knowing it was not true.                                                   

27. Potential buyers were told the property was not a timeshare, but a “vacation ownership.”

28. Supervisors routinely overstated availability due to Wyndham renting out rooms, reducing availability.

29. Supervisors directed Plaintiffs to fraudulently advise timeshare owners on their refinancing options advising existing owners that they could keep making the same monthly payments and pay off their loan by the same time, when in actuality repayment terms were simply extended.

30. Supervisors instructed Plaintiffs to do “whatever they have to do” to close deals, even if it was unlawful or unethical.

The suit also alleges unlicensed real estate agents engaged in the unlicensed practice of real estate by selling properties to buyers.  

Plaintiffs say they complained numerous times to supervisors, Human Resources, and eventually to corporate attorneys and investigators. Plaintiffs stated at least one supervisor stated he would “starve out” Plaintiffs that objected and/or complained if they did not do what he told them to do, or would fire them. Plaintiffs were constructively terminated. According to the complaint, one supervisor advised Plaintiffs to “forget everything (they) just learned” as they would never make a sale that way.

According to attorney Tom Roebig of Florin Roebig trial attorneys, representing the Plaintiffs,

“All too often corporations think that an employee who reports wrongdoing is trying to start trouble, when they’re really just trying to protect the company and other innocent victims. Unfortunately, as we can see here, all too often the employee is punished for doing the right thing.”    

Allegations from the Trish Williams lawsuit:

In the Trish Williams lawsuit, the elderly were also targeted. Allegations in the Trish Williams lawsuit include:   

1.     The effect or even existence of a credit card application;

2.     That current owners could increase their points at no cost;

3.     That Wyndham would buy back points or property in certain circumstances;

4.     That monthly payments would be reduced when they were simply being extended;

5.     That current owners were making smaller payments than they were, in an effort to persuade them to purchase more points;

Michael Brown, President and CEO of Wyndham Destinations made this statement about unscrupulous timeshare exit companies’ sales practices:

“We are committed to protecting our owners to ensure they aren’t taken advantage of.”

Having heard from 705 timeshare families, 98 active duty service members or veterans, alleging unfair and deceptive timeshare sales practices, we contend both sides of the timeshare sales and exits are problematic.

Arizona has proposed a bill (linked above) to safeguard timeshare buyers against practices alleged in the Wyndham lawsuit, numerous Attorneys General investigations, Better Business Bureau complaints, and other lawsuits. We will be reporting on this bill in an upcoming article.  

Thank you to the bravery and courage it takes for employees and former employees to “Hold the Powerful Accountable” and as I can personally attest – it’s not easy!  I look to Whistleblowers of America (WoA) for support because you can’t do it alone. WoA is a nonprofit that seeks justice for veterans, active duty service personnel and government workers. A veteran introduced me to WoA.

https://whistleblowersofamerica.org/h

Self-help groups we feel are not industry influenced:

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

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

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

https://tug2.com/Home.aspx

https://everythingabouttimeshares.com/consider-exchange-options/

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

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

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

Contact Inside Timeshare if you have a positive or negative timeshare experience to share. We know there are honest agents who refuse to buy into the “pitching of heat” which means telling consumers anything they can think of to get a potential buyer to sign on the electronic line. They too are harmed by the actions of sales agents with questionable business practices.

Thank you Irene and to all other contributors this week, with your help we are able to give others a glimpse of what is happening in the world of timeshare.

Please use our contact page if you have any comment or questions on any of the subjects covered on Inside Timeshare.

Have a great weekend.


Friday’s Letter from America

Welcome to this week’s Letter from America, today we welcome a new contributor David Althage with his Nightmare on Timeshare Street”  story. David is another in the long list of veterans who have experienced problems at the hands of timeshare sales agents. Once again a big thanks to Irene Parker for her introduction.

A Wyndham Timeshare Buyer, a Marine Veteran, Shares his Timeshare Experience

January 11, 2019

Introduction by Irene Parker

Marine Veteran David Althage is one of 90 veterans and active duty service members who feel they have been financially harmed by their decision to buy a timeshare. Many of the veterans are disabled. By publishing member accounts, we hope others will be made aware of the financial hardship that can result when a perpetual contract is signed, a contract accompanied by annual maintenance fees, with little to no secondary market.

We understand there are many who use and enjoy their timeshare. Many may have not been made aware of the difficulties that can arise when there is little to no secondary market.

A draft of today’s article was sent to Wyndham but the dispute was not resolved. We feel there should be better disclosure as to the lack of a viable secondary market. Timeshare companies list in their 10k annual reports a viable secondary market is a risk to their investors.   

By David Althage

I would like to share my Wyndham experience, hoping others will take the time to think about a decision that can easily become a financial albatross. I deeply regret our decision to buy the timeshare. They pressured us to a huge extent, but we didn’t realize this until much later. I feel we experienced elder abuse.

I am a veteran of the Marines. I served from 1964 to 1968 and ended up as a Corporal E4. I spent most of 1965 and 1966 in Vietnam and my specialty was machine gunner which I did on the ground and also as the door gunner on helicopters. I was wounded twice and I have also suffered from skin cancer, possible from Agent Orange. All of that seems a lifetime away as my wife and I have been settled for many years in Missouri. These days I repair mobile homes for work, and I keep going at this even though I am now 73. I do not have retirement or a pension. I only have social security.

My wife and I were in a Branson, Missouri mall when a woman at a kiosk told us she had some things to give away, but we would need to attend a 90 minute presentation. The 90 minute Wyndham presentation lasted over five hours. Over 5 hours!

The sales reps kept talking, stalling and feeding us more information. They talked so fast it was difficult to take it all in. There was a lot of paper. We started at 8:30 a.m. They did not tell us how much the timeshare would cost until about 12:30 p.m. We were tired, hungry. We kept asking how much longer it would take. The reps did not offer lunch nor would they allow us to leave to get lunch. Due to our medical issues, our heads were spinning, and my wife’s blood sugar was really dropping. She felt unwell. I suffer from macular degeneration and glaucoma, and I also need cataract surgery. I don’t see well. It was impossible to properly examine all the paperwork. And by the way, the original agent at the kiosk promised us show tickets on the Branson Belle, but it was sold out.

We are shocked at how hard this program is to use. Early in November 2017 we wanted to book a suite in Branson after Christmas in order to see a special show. We were surprised and totally disappointed when the booking center told us that we would have to book at least nine to ten months in advance. They had nothing available at any of their six Branson resorts. We don’t know our schedule that far ahead due to health issues and doctors’ appointments, etc. They did not tell us about having to book so far in advance at the sales meeting. We received a letter from Wyndham which stated,

“As part of an ongoing commitment to enable more owners to vacation where they want, when they want and how they want, in May we introduced updates to the CLUB WYNDHAM Plus Program Guidelines. These updates, made by the FairShare Vacation Owners Association Board, were introduced to help you own your vacation experience and get more out of your vacation.”

We really resent that Wyndham said we could vacation wherever and whenever we wanted. They didn’t give us the straight facts on how hard it is to book. I can only conclude that this statement was a lie.

We found out later that when you book a room and you have to cancel, you have to do it 17 days in advance of your reservation or you lose your points. This is an egregious way to treat anyone, let alone senior citizens! As a result of all this, the timeshare is not of much benefit, especially considering the price we pay.

Another point we wish to make is that the sales reps told us that by taking out visa cards through Barclays, and by making all our payments through these cards, the timeshare would “pay for itself” by generating income from points on purchases. They claimed that these points would then pay for our maintenance fees and our payments to Barclays as well. This is absolute nonsense! You can only pay for about 1% of the maintenance fee by charging, so a $2000 maintenance fee purchase would require $200,000 a year in charges!

One of the reps told us that if we decided we did not want the timeshare, we could easily sell it with no problem. By saying we could do this “with no problem” we took it that it would at least hold its value. Checking online, we were shocked to find out that these timeshares have almost no value at all. He misled us.

Sales agent Landon Anderson gave us his phone number and said to call him any time. He said, “If you ever have any problems, we will work with you.” We said we were going to Branson after Christmas to which he replied that he would take us out to dinner. We called and called, but there was no answer. We believe this number was a burner phone in a drawer somewhere.

Finally, the reps never gave us a hard copy of the contract. We specifically asked for this, but instead handed us a tablet saying that these days everything was electronic. As a result, we could not read the contract so I don’t even know if we could have rescinded in time. I called Wyndham and insisted that they send me a hard copy by mail. It took a long time to arrive. We have been unable to make the electronic device work, so for the longest time we had no idea what was on there.

It felt like they were only interested in making a sale.

This is my sorry Wyndham experience.

From Florida Trends

The world’s largest timeshare developer, Wyndham Destinations, got off to a promising start this summer as a standalone company. The Orlando-based business, established when Wyndham Worldwide split its hotel and timeshare divisions, announced in August that timeshare sales increased by 7% and earnings exceeded Wall Street expectations during its first quarter on its own. “It was an outstanding quarter,” Michael Brown, Wyndham Destinations’ president and CEO, said on the company’s earnings call with analysts.

There was a cloud over the results, however. During the call, Wyndham also revealed that the number of owners defaulting on their timeshare mortgages climbed during the second quarter, extending what has become a multiyear increase in defaults. The company says the rate of increase in its provision for loan losses has slowed to “under 5%” in the second half of 2018, but in the earnings call Brown said defaults remain “higher than we would like,” seconded by CFO Michael Hug, who added that “loan loss remains a central area of focus.”

Of the company’s nearly 900,000 owners, only 200,000 have loans. However, the company expects to set aside 21% of its gross sales to cover losses in 2018 — meaning it expects not to collect $21 of every $100 it’s loaned.

Wyndham blames much of the problem on secondary companies in the timeshare market — firms that resell timeshares, arrange for the transfer of ownership or help purchasers get out of their timeshare contracts.

https://www.floridatrend.com/article/25726/timeshare-tussle

We are no fans of exit companies, but the industry as a whole seems to show undue finger pointing at exit companies, rather than even consider there might be a problem in-house.   

Former Wyndham sales agent and whistleblower Trish Williams was awarded $20 million:

Wyndham’s sales goals for employees were impossible to meet if representatives adhered to the company’s policies and regulations governing timeshare sales, Robert Parker, a former sales executive, testified in depositions. When sales at the Canterbury lagged, he explained, something known as “TAFT days” came into play.

“TAFT is the acronym for ‘tell them any frigging thing,’” Mr. Parker testified. “In other words, it didn’t matter what you said. We need business. Today’s your day. Just tell them whatever you got to tell them. That’s what TAFT is.”

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

It may be a lofty goal, but we are hoping that by hearing the consumer’s side, a better relationship, and better corporate margins can be achieved, by addressing the problems rather than pretend the problems don’t exist. Inside Timeshare has listened to 659 mainly infuriated timeshare members.

Self-help groups we feel are not industry influenced:

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

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

https://tug2.com/Home.aspx

https://everythingabouttimeshares.com/consider-exchange-options/

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

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

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

Thank you to David for sharing his story, if you find after reading these articles that you have similar experiences and would like to share them with other, then use our contact page. We will then be in touch and welcome your contributions. It is only through your stories and “Nightmares on Timeshare Street” that the industry might, just might take notice, then we may see changes for the better.

Following on from the many articles that Inside Timeshare publishes about bogus law firms, claims companies, resale and exit companies, if you have been contacted or even been taken in by them, again use our contact page to get in touch. Your information can then be published to warn others, it is only through you the readers that these scam merchants can be outed and others prevented from falling victim.

As always do your homework before engaging with any company that has contacted you or that you have found either on the net or through adverts in various publications. Just because you see an advert in a prestigious paper or magazine, does not mean they are legitimate. Remember, the advertising department is there to sell advertising space, they make no checks on whether the company is genuine.

Have a great weekend and join us again next week.