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The Timeshare Advocacy Group ™

Friday’s Letter from America

Welcome to this week’s Letter from America, today Irene Parker asks a very important question, What is a Defamatory Statement? This is in fact a very appropriate article considering Irene and Inside Timeshare have been accused of making them in respect of some of our readers “experience” stories. Inside Timeshare asks this question, how can a statement be defamatory if it is someone sharing an experience they have had with a particular company?

We started the week with an article highlighting two new companies that are what can only be described as dubious, the first was Davies & Howell Associates Ltd, with a registered address in London. They claim to have over 40 years of timeshare experience and can extricate owners from their timeshare, along with gaining them compensation.

The other is Ashton Group, apparently based in Nottingham, they have been cold calling timeshare owners with the same type of story. They apparently have a legal representative going by the name of Sir Drummond McFadzean!

So far no company record or website has been found about them, which is never a good sign.

On Tuesday, Irene published the 2nd quarter report from the The Timeshare Advocacy Group™, considering it is only halfway through the year, the number of pleas for help is huge. Thank you to all the advocates who work so hard to help these readers.

Another dubious setup was reported on Wednesday, this concerns a company called Positive Outcome – Contractual Specialists, with the names Lance Steer and Joanne Johnson. It turns out from information received that Lance Steer is in fact one Lance Oakley, a former Diamond sales agent who also worked for EZE Group. Again they claim to be able to get you out of your contract and claim compensation.

Now on with our letter from America.

What is a Defamatory Statement?  

When to File a Complaint with the Federal Trade Commission

Irene Parker

July 13, 2018

The above cartoon was not selected to play partisan politics. It was selected because it is thought provoking. Clearly the elephant is a Democrat and is feeling defamed. Does that mean he or she was defamed? For EU readers who may not be familiar with our political symbols, the Republican Party portrays the elephant as their mascot.  

Inside Timeshare always considers defamation. Our stance is that truth is not defamatory. The reports received from 496 timeshare members describe deceptive and unfair trade practices. A pattern of complaints creates compelling and compounding evidence, even without hard evidence like a recorded conversation. If timeshare companies and some state regulators are over relying on the oral representation clause, the public needs to be aware that they should not believe a word a timeshare sales agent says. Are our readers’ allegations defamatory?   

Definition of defamation in law (from Webster’s Dictionary)

The act of communicating false statements about a person that injure the reputation of that person

Following is an excerpt from a New York Times article. I have edited out the names because we are exploring the topic of defamation, not singling out any one timeshare company. Are the following statements defamatory?

New York Times economics specialist devoted a long article…. One timeshare owner told the journalist: “The Company is much more ambitious, aggressive and downright nasty in their sales presentations compared to other companies. This Company just has an amazing reputation of being tough on people.”

A 77-year-old California woman said a 5-hour hard sell left her “shaking.” The Company gave her a voided receipt for a $4,840 charge on her credit card: “The representatives had been so certain that she would agree to the offer that they had charged her card for the down payment – even though she had not given approval,” the Times reported.

Inside Timeshare has received many complaints and published many articles submitted by timeshare members who say they were not aware a credit card had been opened or that they had been charged for the purchase of a timeshare product.

Unlike Wells Fargo victims, the timeshare buyer complaining of the unauthorized opening of a credit card, or unauthorized charges, often could not file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The CFPB has lost influence since the roll-back of the Dodd Frank Act, but even before the agency’s demise, timeshare buyers could not easily file a CFPB complaint because the timeshare company serviced the loan. A lender must be selected from a dropdown menu. Timeshare companies are not an option. When the member selected the bank that issued the credit card, the bank would respond that they did not actually sell the timeshare points or fill out the application for a credit card. End of story.  

The response from the company to the article:

The CEO said he had “belligerently zero tolerance” for any of his sales representatives who “goes off script.”  

In my opinion, some companies could care less if their sales agent “goes off script” unless the buyer happens to work for the media or holds a smoking guy, like a recording of a fraudulent transaction. Two of our readers who worked for the media resolved their dispute in one day. According to FBI agents our readers have contacted, or attorneys I checked with, “You signed a contract” or “We are not responsible for what our sales agents say,” is in violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission’s Unfair and Deceptive Practices Act.

In order to determine whether an act or practice is “unfair,” the FDIC will consider whether the practice “causes or is likely to cause substantial injury to consumers which cannot be reasonably avoided by consumers themselves and are not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or to competition.” (5)

To correct deceptive trade practices, the FDIC will take action against representations, omissions, or practices that are likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances, and are likely to cause such consumers harm. The FDIC will focus on material misrepresentations or omissions, that is, those that affect choices made by consumers because such misrepresentations are most likely to cause consumers financial harm. 6

https://www.fdic.gov/regulations/compliance/manual/7/vii-1.1.pdf

Almost all members reporting are highly professional, educated people, alleging they were a victim of unfair and deceptive trade practices. All but a handful were angry, desperate, overwhelmed, and confused until empowered with straight answers about how to report and rectify their timeshare nightmare. A few were just tired of aggressive attempts to sell them more points. They just wanted out.  

More on Defamation

http://www.dmlp.org/legal-guide/what-defamatory-statement

A defamatory statement is a false statement of fact that exposes a person to hatred, ridicule, or contempt, causes him to be shunned, or injures him in his business or trade. Statements that are merely offensive are not defamatory (e.g., a statement that Bill smells badly would not be sufficient (and would likely be an opinion anyway)). Courts generally examine the full context of a statement’s publication when making this determination.

In rare cases, a plaintiff can be “libel-proof”, meaning he or she has a reputation so tarnished that it couldn’t be brought any lower, even by the publication of false statements of fact.

Defamatory statements that disparage a company’s goods or services are called trade libel. Trade libel protects property rights, not reputations. While you can’t damage a company’s “reputation,” you can damage the company by disparaging its goods or services.

Because a statement must be false to be defamatory, a statement of opinion cannot form the basis of a defamation claim because it cannot be proven true or false. For example, the statement that Bill is a short-tempered jerk is clearly a statement of opinion because it cannot be proven to be true or false. Again, courts will look at the context of the statement as well as its substance to determine whether it is opinion or a factual assertion. Adding the words “in my opinion” generally will not be sufficient to transform a factual statement to a protected opinion. For example, there is no legal difference between the following two statements, both of which could be defamatory if false:

“John stole $100 from the corner store last week.”

“In my opinion, John stole $100 from the corner store last week.”

For more information on the difference between statements of fact and opinion, see the section on Opinion and Fair Comment Privileges.

Defamation Per Se  

Some statements of fact are so egregious that they will always be considered defamatory. Such statements are typically referred to as defamation “per se.” These types of statements are assumed to harm the plaintiff’s reputation, without further need to prove that harm. Statements are defamatory per se where they falsely impute to the plaintiff one or more of the following things:

  • a criminal offense;
  • a loathsome disease;
  • matter incompatible with his business, trade, profession, or office; or
  • serious sexual misconduct.

It is important to remember that truth is an absolute defense to defamation, including per se defamation. If the statement is true, it cannot be defamatory. For more information see the section on Substantial Truth.

Emily Doskow, attorney

http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/defamation-law-made-simple-29718.html

  1. A defamatory statement must be false — otherwise it’s not considered damaging. Even terribly mean or disparaging things are not defamatory if the shoe fits. Most opinions don’t count as defamation because they can’t be proved to be objectively false. For instance, when a reviewer says, “That was the worst book I’ve read all year,” she’s not defaming the author, because the statement can’t be proven to be false.
  2. The statement must be “injurious.” Since the whole point of defamation law is to take care of injuries to reputation, those suing for defamation must show how their reputations were hurt by the false statement — for example, the person lost work; was shunned by neighbors, friends, or family members; or was harassed by the press. Someone who already had a terrible reputation most likely won’t collect much in a defamation suit.

Scotty Black is a Timeshare Advocacy Group™ advocate. The FBI definition of white-collar crime is “deceit, concealment, violation of trust and bait and switch.” Scotty has an MS in Criminal Justice and works in law enforcement. A few months ago Scotty sent me the criminal code that stated that someone aware that a crime may have been committed must report the alleged crime because it is a crime not to report a crime. When timeshare members report actions that meet the FBI definition of white-collar crime, FBI agents have advised us that we should direct those members to file a complaint with the FBI at IC3.gov and with the FTC.

Timeshare Advocacy Group™

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/

Related article: Timeshare Advocacy Group™

http://insidetimeshare.com/the-tuesday-slot-with-irene-11/

That’s it for this week, we shall be busy watching the World Cup Finals this weekend, unfortunately England didn’t make it to this years final, that is between France and Belgium.

Have a good weekend and join us next week for more information and more stories on the world of timeshare.

The Tuesday Slot with Irene

Welcome to this week’s Tuesday Slot, this week Irene Parker looks at the 2nd quarter of the year from The Timeshare Advocacy Group™, it clearly shows how this group has grown. This group is clearly making the industry very jittery, but as we have said before, “they only have themselves to blame”.

In tomorrows article we will be having a quick look at the latest news from the courts in Spain, there have certainly been some incredible results this week. So rather than give them here they deserve an article to themselves.

Now on with the Tuesday Slot.

The Timeshare Advocacy Group™

2nd Quarter Report

By Irene Parker

July 10, 2018

Timeshare Advocacy Group™  assisted 483 timeshare families as of June 30, 2018. TAG took root February of 2017. About a half dozen of us started a clearing house of information and as Inside Timeshare gained readership, more and more timeshare members reached out to us for assistance and advice. One of our Facebooks that began with 30 members February 2017 now proudly posts comments from 1570 members from 30 countries!

TAG received a total of 267 requests for assistance for all of 2017. Just through the first half of 2018, TAG received 228 requests from timeshare members, so we approached double the volume of complaints, just in the first six months of 2018.  Timeshare members seek straight answers which our advocates provide free of charge from Australia to England and between.

All but a handful of our 483 families reported back to us that their complaint was dismissed with, “You signed a contract” or “We’re not responsible for what our sales agents say.” If this is the official position at some timeshare companies, we feel the consumer should be aware of this in order to make an informed decision as to whether a timeshare is right for you or your family.

Not one of the 483 families that reached out to us was aware that there is little to no secondary market for many timeshares. We encourage timeshare buyers to contact a member of the Licensed Timeshare Resale Broker Association before buying any timeshare. Licensed timeshare resale brokers, charging nothing to list a timeshare, work in all timeshares and can cover the spectrum of available choices helping you decide whether it is best to buy on the secondary market or direct from the timeshare developer. There are pros and cons for both. http://www.licensedtimeshareresalebrokers.org/

About half of the members reaching out to us are battling serious medical issues or hit one of life’s road bumps that made the timeshare unusable or unaffordable. Many are saddled with high interest rate loans and some with higher interest rate credit cards. Unlike your personal residence, it is difficult to get rid of a timeshare that has an outstanding loan. We have been contacted by senior after senior, facing foreclosure for the first time in their life, because of defaulting on a timeshare loan. Almost all have high credit scores and have rarely been late paying a bill. The foreclosure process can be devastating.  Just knowing you are not alone can be a comfort. This is a difficult process for the young as well.

Our Military Team leader, John Collick, experienced his complaint dismissed with “We are not responsible for what our sales agents say,” As described in John’s Inside Timeshare’s July 3 article. John said he was told the timeshare he had owned for years was being acquired by the company he booked a stay with, told he needed to buy timeshare points from that company as the points would cost much more after his resort was acquired. According to John, this information was false.

“We’re not responsible for what our sales agents say,” seems somewhat of an admission that Section 5 of the FTC code has been violated. According to the Federal Trade Commission Section 5:

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

Our standard disclaimer is that we know there are millions who use their timeshares with no complaints. We are encouraged by some timeshare developers who seem sincerely interested in improving timeshare sales practices.

We are proud to have grown to 44 advocates, professionals bringing their skills and life experiences to the table to advocate on behalf of timeshare members seeking to address concerns about their membership. We have established seven teams. Although all our advocates are dedicated, it is understandable that once a dispute has been resolved, enthusiasm diminishes, especially if the member was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Over the past year, more core advocates have volunteered to stay with us for the long haul, as we continue to organize and improve operations. If you signed an NDA, it does not prevent you from joining our legislative outreach team, for example.   

Leading our efforts:

  • Reporting Team, functions as a quality circle management team     
  • Media Team Leader – Richard Sokolowski, real estate agent, Arizona
  • Military Team Leader, John Collick, First Sergeant, USMC (Retired)
  • Legislative Team Leader, Sheilah Brust, retired from the New York Governor’s Office of Employee Relations
  • Scam Research: Deniece Vargas, California
  • Technology Support (Open due to Team Leader signing an NDA)
  • Foreclosure Support, Scotty Black, M.S. Criminal Justice

Probably the most common comment we at Inside Timeshare hear is, “At least I know I am not alone.” Proactive action, working with a volunteer towards timeshare resolution, relinquishment, refund, or even foreclosure, takes the problem from the unknown to the known.

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.

Consultants and behind-the-scenes advocates add an additional layer of advice and protection. One very important consideration is that many of those we have helped were on their way to the upfront “guaranteed to get you out of your timeshare” firms that sometimes prey on those already victimized. Not all are bad, but scams abound.  From this perspective, the developer, the timeshare lobby, and TAG advocates are on the same side. This 15 page Department of Justice report listing timeshare fraud, jail terms and fines, says it all:

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

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

“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens” Jimi Hendrix

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

So that’s it for today, all it leaves us to say now is if you have been contacted by any company or found one on the internet and want to know if they are genuine and can be trusted to what they claim. Contact Inside Timeshare and we will point you in the right direction.

Working Together Across The Ocean.

In today’s article, Irene Parker explains the work of the Advocacy Group and how it can help you the timeshare owner. Since this project has been going it has achieved some fantastic results, some that we are unable to publish, others have been and there are some to come.

This project has brought people together, ensuring that no one feels that they are alone. There is always somebody to help, even if it just to listen to your concerns. So enough from em and on with Irene’s article.

The Timeshare Advocacy Group ™

butterfly

“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens” Jimi Hendrix

By Irene Parker

June 5, 2017

What is the Timeshare Advocacy Group ™ and who are they?

More importantly, why are they necessary?

Timeshare Advocates, advocating on behalf of those who have fallen victim to what they consider to be deceitful sales practices, go beyond helpful Facebook posts to walk with the timeshare member until a resolution, relinquishment refund, or foreclosure takes place.

Timeshare members can contact Timeshare Advocacy Group ™ if they:

  • Can’t get out of their timeshare
  • Feel they were deceived or lied to by a timeshare sales agent
  • Don’t know where to start
  • Don’t know who to call
  • Cannot afford an attorney
  • Cannot afford maintenance fees

For too long timeshare developers have relied on the use and abuse of the oral representation clause. Of course there are timeshare companies and timeshare sales agents selling timeshares without deceit, trying to survive in a timeshare world where top producers are all too often encouraged to sell by “deceit, concealment, violation of trust and bait and switch” meeting the FBI definition of White Collar Crime. Financial Institution Fraud is added to the mix when credit card lending crosses over to predatory lending.

cartoon strip

When timeshare buyers begin their complaint with – “The salesman said” – company representatives are quick to ask for proof of the allegation, a word I have come to detest. In most cases there is no proof, but some regulators are listening. After all, it’s not that unusual for someone who has committed a crime to say, “I didn’t do it.”

More and more, surprised timeshare members who feel they are victims of deceit or “bait and switch”, realizing they have signed a perpetual contract with little or no secondary market, are digging in for the long haul, filing complaints with the FBI when deceived and Attorneys General sympathetic to the cause. Not all are.

Inside Timeshare previously published “Chicken Soup for Timeshare’s Soul” simplifying timeshare attorney Mike Finn’s white paper.

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

The Florida Timeshare Division acted on only 110 out of 2,360 timeshare complaints between April 2012 and April 2014.

Contrast this with Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office acting on approximately 400 complaints filed against Diamond Resorts resulting in an $800,000 settlement and an issuance of an “Assurance of Discontinuance”.

The Timeshare Advocacy Group ™ works with print and broadcast media to take timeshare issues before the court of public opinion.

When Timeshare Advocate and former Hyatt and Diamond Resorts salesperson Candace Czarny learned of a May 2017 Arizona AG filing deadline for Diamond restitution eligibility, she wrote and distributed a press release to numerous Arizona publications and news networks. An Advocate who has a complaint in process was told by her reviewer that because of the publication of several articles, the AG office has received an additional 500 complaints. They wanted filers to know they need to be patient.

Hence, we answered the question, “What can one person do to make a difference.”

The Arizona Republic, part of the USA Today Network

http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona/2017/05/18/timeshare-holders-released-contracts-following-deceptive-sales-practices/329107001/

The Timeshare Advocacy Group ™ is a group led by the following individuals who feel the time has come to take back our vacations.

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

Leading these efforts:

  • Irene Allen, TAG administrator
  • Charles Thomas, Inside Timeshare
  • Irene Parker, Inside Timeshare
  • Patrice Johnson, Advocate coordinator
  • Lisa Ann Schreier, media consultant
  • Candace Czarny, timeshare consultant
  • Diamond Resorts Member Sponsored Facebook administrators
  • Club Intrawest Owners Facebook administrators
  • Gold Key Resorts Owners Forum administrators
  • Monarch website administrators
  • Over 100 timeshare owners and members turned Advocates
  • 15 attorneys involved with various timeshare legal actions

This is where we are going. But how did we get here?

It all started with DRIP

http://drip.enjin.com/home/m/1894207/article/4099328

DRIP was launched by over 1000 British owners seeking release from Diamond Resorts timeshare contracts.

To my knowledge, Diamond Resorts has never admitted wrongdoing, but the company has introduced a program called CLARITY™ in response to the Arizona Attorney General’s actions. Is it enough? Members are wary but hope to work with Diamond to improve customer relations.

Monarch (DRI acquired) timeshare owners launched a website

http://www.monarchowner.com/p/opt-out.html

At a 2016 annual meeting, it was announced 30% of the remaining 40,000 Monarch owners have not paid their 2016 dues.

Wyndham Whistleblowers

A jury awarded former Wyndham sales agent Trish Williams $20 million when she exposed practices she said took place at Wyndham. According to Ms. Williams, Wyndham had TAFT days on slow sales days – Tell them any blank thing to close the deal.

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

Two additional Wyndham Whistleblowers, reported by Scott Brinkmann

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/brinkmann-on-business/os-bz-wyndham-whistleblower-lawsuit-20170209-story.html

A former Diamond sales agent introduced me to Charles Thomas, publishing investigative timeshare reports for Inside Timeshare based in Spain. This began a lifelong collaborative effort working together towards timeshare reform.

Diamond Resorts Owners Advocacy Group was launched February 2017

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

advocate 1

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

Club Intrawest Owners member sponsored Facebook 3,000 members

https://www.facebook.com/pg/Club-Intrawest-Owners-Group-921012087982547/about/

Gold Key Resorts Owners Forum member sponsored Facebook

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

The following companies should be thinking about implementing their own version of DRI’s CLARITY™  based on these Consumer Affairs ratings.

The Bluegreen Corporation 1.5 out of 5 stars

https://www.consumeraffairs.com/travel/bluegreen.html

Westgate Resorts 1 out of 5 stars

https://www.consumeraffairs.com/travel/westgate.html

RCI 1.3 out of 5 stars

https://www.consumeraffairs.com/travel/rci.html

Shell Vacation Club 1.3 out of 5 stars

https://www.consumeraffairs.com/travel/shell_vacation_club.html

Hilton Grand Vacations 1.5 out of 5 stars

https://www.consumeraffairs.com/travel/hilton_grand_vacations.html

customer service

Many of the families our Advocates have worked with have been financially devastated by tricks of the timeshare trade. The word we hear most often is “embarrassed” and “ashamed”.

All victims of crimes are silenced, whether child abuse, rape or timeshare – isolated and silenced by perpetrators. The timeshare developers and lobbyist efforts have made it difficult to be released from contracts and difficult to contact other owners. Lawmakers turn a deaf ear to members with eyes wide shut. There is virtually no member representation in the industry.

We want you to know that our Advocates and Inside Timeshare are here for you. Join our efforts and expand our network.

Line up

Timeshare companies are starting to take notice, Inside Timeshare has had reports that many are wondering when we will start to highlight them, they are right to be concerned, because by coming together your voice gets louder. When it gets louder, it gets stronger, once it gets stronger the more you can all achieve.

Irene and myself thank all who contribute to these articles, either by writing or just reading the drafts and pointing out anything that has been missed.