Welcome to this weeks Tuesday Slot, once again this is not the article we had scheduled, that has been pulled at the last minute. The original article (which as always was sent to the timeshare company Holiday Inn Vacation Club for comment), was a particularly heart wrenching story of woe, but thanks to someone at the timeshare company, (some of them do have a heart), the matter has been resolved. All we can say to Holiday Inn Vacation Club is thank you and well done for responding so quickly.
Inside Timeshare has been receiving many emails from readers wanting to check on companies calling them, it is that time of year, as maintenance bills start to arrive, so all these companies are getting in with the usual pitch, we can get you out of your timeshare. Unfortunately most are bogus and fake law firms, which we have highlighted in previous articles. So beware the caller, get as much information about them as possible, then contact Inside Timeshare for further help.
We have also heard from one of our German readers regarding Diamond Resorts (Europe), it would appear that Diamond may have changed the policy on exiting the contract. We do know they have exceptional circumstance, which are over 75, death of a partner, financial difficulty and medical, where they will allow exit for free. For those who do not fall into this category they were allowing an exit on payment of 2 years maintenance, well, according to our German reader who applied for this, he was told “NO”! They would only let him out when he fits the exceptional circumstances or reaches 75, until then he must continue to pay maintenance.
We will be keeping an eye on any other developments regarding this, it does seem strange that this policy has suddenly changed. If any of our other readers have experienced this please do let us know, it may be that this was just a one off incident from an un-informed member of staff.
How to File a Timeshare Complaint (October 22, 2018 revision)
Start with the Attorneys General Office
If necessary, continue to the FBI at IC3.gov
Finish with the Federal Trade Commission, if Section 5 is violated
If you were sold a timeshare as an investment, file an SEC complaint
“I was told that in order to be released from a timeshare, which was a deeded timeshare, 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 the purchase I learned through Social Media the company has a voluntary surrender program. I had told the sales agent that my wife had bought this timeshare 18 years ago and that I had hated it for 18 years. I explained that I was only attending the presentation to find out how to get rid of it. At that point he should have advised me of the voluntary surrender program instead of selling me points for no reason. The response from the company was it sounds like a ‘he said she said’ and to make matters worse, there is a six month waiting period for the voluntary surrender program.”
We have received 634 timeshare complaints as of October 22, 2018. Recently, several complaints have been from timeshare members who say they were told the timeshare was an investment; the timeshare could be rented for income, and would be easy to sell. The complaints were directed against four timeshare companies.
Marketing a timeshare for the purposes of generating income, or leading the buyer to believe the retail price is what the timeshare is worth, is selling the timeshare as a security without being registered as a security with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Therefore, we have added the SEC as an avenue for grievance if this applies to you.
We have also added the AARP fraud alert. The AARP hotline responders have been responsive, but misleading in their advice. We will be publishing an article shortly to address why we believe AARP is providing misleading information.
One Attorney General’s office is directing people to a list of timeshare attorneys. The member pays the attorney, the attorney has no timeshare experience, and the member ends up referred to us. We help for free and the lawyer gets paid. This has happened several times. Do not use an attorney without timeshare experience. The field is too specialized.
In all but a few cases, the timeshare company has dismissed member complaints 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 81 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.
Most of the members contacting us have an outstanding loan. The industry has created this nightmare because if you buy a house and have a loan outstanding, you can still sell the house. When the member alleges they experienced unfair and deceptive sales practices, they have signed a perpetual contract with little or no secondary market. Timeshare companies list a viable secondary market as a risk to their shareholders.
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.
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 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
State of Residence
For each contract in dispute:
Where Purchased and Date of Purchase
Number of Points Purchased
Sales Agent and Sales Agent ID# (if available)
Amount Financed and Interest Rate
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. Section 5 Federal Trade Commission, explains unfair and deceptive practices:
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.
MOST IMPORTANT – Purchase Timeline
It is better to state your narrative as a narrative referring back to the 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.
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. 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.
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.
The FBI has advised our members, if the allegation involves credit card fraud, the member should also file a complaint with the Secret Service.
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. It’s tricky to find the timeshare tab. Look for “next page” until you find it.
- 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.
- The Securities and Exchange Commission for selling timeshare points as an investment without being registered as a security.
- AARP Fraud Watch
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. Many families contacting us are financially devastated by their decision to buy a timeshare. We seek to promote consumer awareness.
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 over 200 of the more serious complaints we forwarded 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 members 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. We hope to promote a better relationship between disgruntled timeshare buyers and their respective resort. We appreciate all timeshare companies who have responded to article drafts and resolved customer issues. Inside Timeshare would always rather see a dispute resolved over publishing an article.
October 23, 2018 Irene Parker
Timeshare Advocacy Group™
Related article: FTC Section 5
If you have any timeshare problem or need help in checking if a company is genuine, contact Inside Timeshare with the details, we will point you in the right direction.