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Friday’s Letter from America

Welcome to this week’s edition of Letter from America, following on from our previous articles on the timeshare bills put forward by Florida and Nevada, Attorney Mike Finn submits his thoughts on this subject with the introduction by Inside Timeshares very own Irene Parker.

But first, a reminder that today is the first day of the Platinum Protest in Orlando, even if you can’t make it, please enter your support for them on the Diamond Resorts Owners Advocacy page on Facebook. We hope to bring you a report from them next week.

Lawyers and Their Important Role in Consumer Protection

By Attorney Mike Finn

Why You Should Sign our Petition asking a lawmaker to sponsor a Bill in 2021 requiring that timeshare buyers be offered 24 hours to review a perpetual timeshare contract before signing.

By Jordan Raskin

May 17, 2019

Our petition preparing to launch:  

https://www.care2.com/?fbclid=IwAR3w3tungUxAWYjY3fSro_WJBRUKB9pe99LiJ_9ur8T5WZOyC9wHsyswqZc

Provide the timeshare consumer 24 hours to review, at least think about, their decision to sign a lifelong perpetual contract, with no secondary market, often without even having tried the product, and often not allowed access to the booking site until after the rescission period.

This offer could be waived if the buyer chooses, either due to the certainty that the buyer wants the product, or the need to sign because the vacation is ending soon.

This offer should not be buried in the electronic fine print. It should be a separate disclosure presented and signed before the sales presentation. The price per point offer would be required to be maintained for 24 hours.

What’s so unfair about that?  

Introduction by Irene Parker

Never mind a lawyer! We’d settle for our mom, dad, son, or daughter!

Both the Florida and Nevada Bills referenced in Mike Finn’s article below, asking that timeshare exit providers provide buyers 24 hours to review their contract before signing, died in committee: Florida HB 2639 and Nevada SB 348 bill are dead  

SB 1430 Companion Bill to Florida HB 2639 Vacation and Timeshare Plans

http://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2019/01430

SENATE – Died in Innovation, Industry, and Technology

How do you separate the wheat from the chaff? There are legitimate lawyers and lawyers with questionable business practices. I have contacted a number of exit company providers to inquire about the volume of calls they received. Two of the major exit companies say they receive between 3,000 to 3,500 calls each month from timeshare buyers desperately seeking release from timeshares they were told would be easy to sell. Each company only accepts less than 200 callers as clients, as the member must meet specific criteria of unfair and deceptive sales practices.  

Before we begin with Mike Finn’s article,  

If you are going to be in the Orlando area this weekend May 17-19 Friday – Saturday, please support our Platinum Protestors. Locations and dates provided: https://insidetimeshare.com/fridays-letter-from-america-49/

Now onto:

“Why Kill All the Lawyers?”

By Attorney Mike Finn

“Add to that advantage the fact that the purchaser purchases on the same day they’ve been introduced to the product with no ability to consult with or review the multipage purchase contract with their own legal representative and you can begin to understand the owner/purchaser’s situation years later when they ultimately seek to terminate their arguably lifelong contractual obligations contained within their timeshare purchase contract.”

It’s hard to say anything about lawyers that haven’t already been said. They are both revered and reviled as staunch proponents and champions of justice or as avaricious opportunists. The profession is comprised of all types, from the most learned jurists to the slightly seamier side of humanity. We lawyers share the same spectrum of positive human qualities and negative frailties as the rest of our species.

The import of this article is less related to the issues of lawyers individually, but rather to the role of the attorney as consumer advocate within the legal system. I speak to the issue of what removing lawyers, or significantly diminishing their role to effectively represent their consumer clients, does to strengthen or weaken consumer protection in general, as a matter of national policy.

Currently, there is pending in at least two states with a significant timeshare presence, Nevada and Florida, House and Senate Bills sponsored by ARDA, the timeshare industry’s trade association. Ostensibly, per the statements made by ARDA’s political arm, ARDA-ROC (American Resort Development Assoc.-Resort Owners Coalition), the primary intent of these Bills is to enhance consumer protection. However, to some of us on the consumer side of the equation, we suspect there may be a darker, more industry serving purpose. These Bills seek to regulate two separate and quite distinct groups, lawyers and timeshare exit companies.

There can be no argument that some regulation is warranted, specifically in regard to the unlicensed and unregulated timeshare exit companies; however, this ‘shotgun style’ approach of lumping-in lawyers with this proposed legislation will if passed, create some chilling and decidedly consumer-unfriendly impacts on the timeshare consumer/owner.

To further distinguish these totally disparate entities, lawyers are already both licensed and extensively regulated by their respective State Bar Associations. Additionally, as lawyers, (and unlike exit companies) we are specifically trained and educated to handle matters involving contract disputes, as well as debtor/creditor rights issues and other relevant matters that may well arise in the course of a controversy. Without getting too far into the weeds, I think it’s fair to state that the pending State Bills are clearly designed to severely limit and restrict the involvement of both timeshare exit companies and, from my perspective, more importantly, lawyers, in terms of their ability to provide services to timeshare owners seeking third-party assistance in terminating or modifying their timeshare purchase contracts.

To summarize the owners’ plight, many owners didn’t realize that their purchase contracts did not include a way to terminate their contract when they could no longer utilize their timeshares because of life changes, like aging, job loss, divorce, death of a spouse, or other major life changing events. This issue wouldn’t be so troublesome if it were not for the fact that there exists little to no resale value or market for these timeshare interests, trapping owners who cannot continue to derive any benefit from their ownership, but remain legally bound by their purchase contract, subject to annual rising maintenance fees and other contractual liabilities.

The ‘timeshare exit’ industry sprang into existence to fill the market void created when the timeshare developers themselves were unwilling to offer owners relief from essentially ‘lifelong and perhaps beyond’ contracts. This exit industry includes lawyers who focus on consumer timeshare owner issues as part and parcel of their law practices, and exit companies, non-lawyers who claim industry knowledge and apparent ability to act on behalf of timeshare owners in their negotiations with timeshare developers or property owner associations.

The focus of this article will remain on the lawyer and not the exit company. It’s important to distinguish between these two different kinds of organizations and avoid comparing the two. They are completely and totally unlike and should not be combined or grouped together in these Bills. It’s impossible to make any logical form of comparison beyond stating that each seek to represent the consumer timeshare/owner in dealing with the respective owner’s timeshare situation. Combining the two and treating them as equals in proposed legislation is grossly inaccurate and inappropriate. It only adds to consumer confusion!

Attorneys have undergone extensive education and training and have prepared for and passed a state mandated Bar examination in order to prepare themselves for dealing with contested and controversial legal issues. Our legal system is by definition adversarial in nature. Justice involves a process by which parties on each side of a controversy present, through their selected legal representative, their respective position to an impartial determiner of the facts in order to produce a just outcome. Indeed, our very symbol of justice is a robed and blindfolded woman holding a scale aloft in her hand.

Each side, through its appointed legal representative, presents its best case to the referee, hearing officer, or judge and jury. At the end of the contest, the winning side, through presentation of evidence and persuasion, tipped the scales in its favor. This is our legal system, or at least the portion of it that decides controversies. Add to our justice system the requirement that each side starts off with a level playing field. Neither side has gained an unfair advantage prior to the contest commencement. As a condition of fundamental fairness, may the side with the most compelling case for justice win!

What can skewer the ‘level playing field’ aspect of the justice model, is if one of the players gets to the game before the other side, gaining a one-sided advantage. Arguably, that’s exactly what the Timeshare Developer has been able to do. Since the state requires the Developer to register and apply for a license to market timeshares within that particular state, the Developer has prepared its purchase contracts and other disclosure documentation and submitted them to the appropriate state agency well in advance of its initial sale. It’s probably fair to suggest that these purchase agreements were prepared by an able team of lawyers with the Developer’s best interests in mind. In fact, the only remaining task for the Developer’s sales team at the time of consumer purchase is to fill in the blanks on the preprinted purchase contract with the purchaser’s name and other pertinent information.

Add to that advantage the fact that the purchaser purchases on the same day they’ve been introduced to the product with no ability to consult with or review the multipage purchase contract with their own legal representative and you can begin to understand the owner/purchaser’s situation years later when they ultimately seek to terminate their arguably lifelong contractual obligations contained within their timeshare purchase contract.

Now that you can envision, from the consumer’s perspective, the un-level playing field that the consumer finds themselves on at termination time, and add to that the circumstances that would exist if the Timeshare Developers are successful in passing these new laws. These Bills, if passed, would further restrict the consumers’/owners’/members’ ability to seek justice within the legal system, if the lawyers’ ability to represent the consumer is constrained and restricted.

From where I sit, as lawyer representing timeshare owner/consumers, it appears that the timeshare industry is dissatisfied with its already existing unfair advantage over their consumer and still seeks to tilt the field further in their favor. My advice to them (not that I anticipate them appreciating any of it) is to show a kinder, gentler aspect to your loyal owners by either recognizing and permitting an easier contract termination, or, at minimum, not further attempting to restrict their right to effective legal representation as they seek relief from their onerous timeshare purchase contracts.

Respectfully submitted,

Michael D. Finn, Esq.

Thank you Mike and Irene for this week’s edition of Letter from America, these articles are certainly helping many timeshare owners see exactly what is going on in the murky world of timeshare.

If you have any views or comments on any article published then use our contact page we would love to hear from you. Do you have a story to tell, be it a positive one or a “Nightmare on Timeshare Street”, which you would like to share, then contact us and we will help you to submit an article.

Well, that is all for this week, remember the Platinum Protest and show your support, have a great weekend and join us again next week.

Start the Week

Welcome to the start of another week in the world of timeshare, we begin today with yet another company that has sprung up in relation to the recent Eze Group court case. Again the same old story, appointed by the courts to get victims their money back, for a fee that is.

The company name is H&K Limited, apparently based in Walthamstow East London, however, there is a company registered at Company House by the name of HK Limited, but it was dissolved on 12 December 2017.

The company number was 10334162 and the registered address was located at 18 Janeston Court 1-3 Wilbury Crescent, Hove, England, BN3 6FT

There does not seem to be any website and the email address they give is [email protected]

Again this is a free email address providers such as gmail, yahoo and hotmail, so it is not linked to any website.

The company directors were Abdul Haseeb and Yousaf Shah, Haseeb has no links to any other company but Shah was a director of another dissolved company called Helping the Children.

It may be that the persons behind the latest scam could just be using the company name, as when it is googled it does come up on the listings as a registered company. So unless you click on the link you would think that it is genuine.

Now as we have reported on another similar company A&K Advisory Limited, very similar name, the story is the same. Regency Shores, one of Eze Groups Tenerife based companies have recently lost in the High Court. Low and behold along comes H&K with the great news that money has been set aside and they have been appointed by the courts to pay it out to victims.

Problem is they need a £725 advanced fee to do so. No doubt the money will need to be paid by bank transfer to the “Escrow Account”, the only thing is the account will obviously in the name of a private individual.

The important point to remember is that Birmingham Crown Court trial was against Dominic O’Reilly, Stephanie O’Reilly and Eze Europe Ltd, the court did not set aside any money for victims. There is however an investigation under The Proceeds of Crime Act.

As for Regency Shores, there has been no court action either in Tenerife or in the UK, even though they are under investigation. No charges have yet been brought.

Remember, no court will appoint, instruct or allow any private company or third party to contact any victim of fraud, this would be down to the investigating authorities before the trial ever takes place.

The recurring question from all enquiries Inside Timeshare has received on this matter is how have they got such accurate details, such as what was purchased, how much for, when purchased, full names, addresses along with home and mobile numbers?

The answer is very simple, these scams are either being setup and run by ex-employees who have stolen company records or they have been purchased from existing or ex-employees. I would actually suspect that these scams are being run by ex-employees, the reason, they seem to know the workings of the company very well.

So to recap, there is no money waiting or being held at court, courts do not use third party companies, payments are never paid to private individuals, emails should always be linked to company websites and never pay any money upfront especially by bank transfer.

If you have been contacted with a similar story by a company with another name, Inside Timeshare would like to hear from you. If you require any further information on how it may be possible for you to get something back by doing it yourself, use our contact page and we’ll get back to you.

Friday’s Letter from America

Welcome to this weeks Letter from America, today Irene Parker sets out instructions on how to file complaints with the FBI and the FTC (Federal Trade Commission). Unfortunately, many of the requests for help Inside Timeshare receives fall into the category of fraud, yet the industry still does not recognise that they need to change.

Before we start a bit of news from the Spanish Courts.

The lawyers from Canarian Legal Alliance have been at it again this week with a resounding 25 sentences issued against timeshare companies.

These have been broken down as 3 issued from the High Court and 22 from the Court of First Instance. With Anfi receiving 24 judgements against them and Club La Costa receiving 1. The Club la Costa case was heard at the court of First Instance in Fuengirola, Malaga and is the very first case to involve one of CLA’s Spanish clients. (Click on the PDF below for the court sentence).

The other cases were clients from the UK and Scandinavia, with most receiving double the deposits paid and the return of legal fees, all contract were also declared null and void.

The total amount awarded in all these cases is a staggering 828,329€. So congratulations to the clients and also the entire legal team at Canarian Legal Alliance.

Now for our Letter from America.

Timeshare Accountability Group™

FBI and FTC Filing Instructions and Talking Points

April 26, 2019

By Irene Parker

When timeshare members feel they have experienced unfair and deceptive timeshare sales practices, the member should first reach out to their resort in an attempt to resolve the dispute. If informed, “You signed a contract” or “We are not responsible for what our sales agents say,” file a Better Business Bureau complaint and file a complaint with the Attorney General from the state where you signed a contract.

Unfortunately, some timeshare complaints meet the FBI definition of white-collar crime. If the complaint is of a nature that meets the following description, file with the FBI at IC3.gov or file orally by contacting an FBI field office.

# 1 IC3.gov

Timeshare fraud falls under White Collar Crime/Mortgage Fraud/Financial Institution Fraud/Fraud for Profit. click on the link below to read about mortgage fraud. The general definition of white-collar crime is “deceit, concealment, violation of trust, and bait and switch.”  

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/mortgage-fraud

To file a complaint with the FBI, select IC3.gov from the three choices available. It’s confusing because IC stands for Internet Crime, but it doesn’t have to be about internet crime. That’s just the name of the portal. You can file a complaint on behalf of someone else. At the end of the form it will ask if you are filing on someone else’s behalf.

https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx

Some of the information that the IC3.gov online form asks for is not necessary – fields like routing numbers, bank addresses. Don’t worry about having all that information. They are not required fields. Victim bank is the bank from where you made payments or the credit card company. Subject bank is where you send your payments.

If you receive additional information after filing an original complaint, there is a handy box to check that asks, “Is this an update to a prior report?” Start the complaint over, but check that box to add the new information.

Step #2 File an oral FBI report 24/7

You can also file orally by contacting an FBI field office. Contact the field office where you signed a contract. Members have reported some agents have spent one or two hours on the phone with them. One member met with her FBI agent!

When you call the field office, select “Submit a Tip” then wait for the white-collar crime prompt. One person ended up in the wrong pew of the right church told they had to have lost a million dollars or more to file a complaint. That’s not true.

Members report the FBI has been responsive, but the FBI agent needs to be convinced getting a lawyer will do nothing to stop the problem of timeshare fraud for profit. Timeshare companies have armies of lawyers and they can drag a proceeding on forever until the member is broke. It is an understatement to say timeshare attorneys don’t look favourably on the arbitration process.

In Florida call the Tampa Field Office

https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices/

Whether filing at IC3.gov or orally, you can provide the name and phone number of other victims, especially if you are aware of similar complaints. That way the FBI can look up other reports directed against the same repeat offender sales agent.

Sheila Brust’s article, “Just the Facts, Ma’am” is about her experience reaching out to the FBI. Sheilah worked for New York Governor’s Office of Employee Relations. The FBI advised Sheila to file with the Secret Service because her allegation also involved credit card fraud.

www.secretservice.gov                                                       

Don’t expect to hear back from the FBI. They don’t work like that. That doesn’t mean they are not listening. It takes volumes of complaints and a pattern of complaints to launch any investigation, whether with the FBI or with an Attorney General.

Filing your own complaint requires dedication and perseverance. Resolutions can be accomplished, empowered with information the member needs to take matters into their own hands. Thinking beyond their own dilemma, members can become one of our volunteer Supporters to help others.

Our Complaint Instructions were revised by a millennial timeshare buyer who followed our complaint instructions to resolve her dispute.

How to File a Complaint revised January 25, 2019

Timeshare member complaints tend to start out convoluted and confusing. We suggest having a friend or neighbor, not familiar with timeshare, read your complaint to see if it makes sense. Provide examples. Expect to be denied. Read the reason for dismissal and respond with a rebuttal.

Saying things like “I can’t afford this” is useless. You can’t go to your home mortgage lender and say “I can’t afford my home mortgage” and expect them to take your house back. You signed a legally binding contract. If there was no deception, you are bound by the contract, although it’s possible to request a contract cancellation due to medical or financial hardship.

We refer to a lawyer about one in ten times when all else fails, or the member does not have the time or energy to follow our process, which is admittedly timeshare consuming. A list of reputable law firms is provided upon request.   

#3 File with the Federal Trade Commission

The FTC online form has a “Timeshare Sales” option. It’s not easy to find. Instructions are in this article. Don’t be discouraged by receiving only a “Here’s some timeshare tips!” response. https://insidetimeshare.com/the-tuesday-slot-13/

Extra Talking Points

You must inform the FBI agent why you experienced unfair and deceptive sales practices. The agent you speak with may know nothing about timeshare basics. Explain the contract is perpetual, there is no secondary market, and when members complain, the company often hides behind the oral representation clause.

Your mission is to convince the FBI that this is not about only a few complaints. This article “Timeshare Foreclosure Explained to Lenders” lists just a few of the Attorneys General investigations and lawsuits, and the St. Louis Better Business Bureau report tells consumers what to watch out for:

Timeshare Foreclosure Explained to Lenders

St. Louis BBB report

https://www.bbb.org/en/us/article/news-releases/18149-dont-fall-for-deception-pressure-and-traps-disguised-as-vacations-a-better-business-bureau-study-of-the-missouri-timeshare-vacation-club-industry?bbbid=0734

Why doesn’t the government do something about this?

  1. There is no federal enforcement,
  2. Timeshare Attorney General Investigations and settlements are usually mere financial speed bumps, comparable to fining an NFL player $10,000. One exception is The Manhattan Club settlement. https://nypost.com/2017/08/17/new-york-ag-reaches-6-5m-settlement-with-manhattan-club
  3. When a member complains, they are shown their initials on the fine print,
  4. Retaining an attorney will not stop unfair and deceptive business practices,
  5. Litigation is time-consuming and expensive,
  6. Arbitration is widely known to be pro-industry. If you lose you can end up paying the resort’s arbitration fees. The resort hires the arbitrators.
  7. The CFPB has been rendered ineffective. Even in the CFPB heyday members could not file a complaint because the borrower often doesn’t even know the name of their lender. You had to select a financial institution from the dropdown menu and timeshare companies are not a choice.
  8. Some lawmakers may be influenced by lobby dollars, as reported by The Daily Courier. https://www.dcourier.com/news/2019/apr/16/opt-out-provisions-timeshare-bill-no-longer-table/
  9. Some state AGs turn a blind eye. At a Florida legislative workshop in Tallahassee March 12 of this year, the spokesperson for the Florida AG reported their office received 1,600 annual timeshare complaints in 2017 and 2018, mostly about the initial sales presentation, 50% seniors, of which the AG engaged only 42 of the complaints, mostly about resales. This spells no enforcement. The Nevada Real Estate Division responded to all our readers with a “You have no proof letter.”
  10. Timeshare members give the ARDA ROC Political Action Committee approximately $5 million dollars annually, often “Opt-Out” donations. We have heard from over 800 timeshare members. Not one could tell us what ARDA ROC even stands for. ARDA ROC vigorously opposed recent proposed pro-consumer changes in Arizona.  

Let us know if you are active duty military, law enforcement, a government worker or a veteran, as we are supported by WhistleBlowers of America. They added timeshare fraud to their March 14, 2018 report before the Committees on Veterans’ Affairs (the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has since been all but dismantled and we changed our name from TS Advocacy to Timeshare Accountability Group):

United in Speaking Truth to Power

www.whistleblowersofamerica.org @whistleP2P

601 Pennsylvania Ave, South Tower, Suite 900 Washington, DC 20004

Statement of

Ms. Jacqueline Garrick, LCSW-C

Executive Director

Whistleblowers of America

Before the

Committees on Veterans’ Affairs

U.S. Senate

U.S. House of Representatives

March 14, 2018

House and Senate Committee Members:

Whistleblowers of America (WoA) was incorporated in 2017, as a newly focused nonprofit service organization providing peer support to whistleblowers, so we are honored to be able to share our concerns with you today. The majority of our contacts are with Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) employees or veterans who have identified waste, fraud, and abuse, medical errors, denials of care or benefits, discrimination, harassment or bullying.  For doing so, they have suffered reprisal and retaliation. From the report:

Fraud and Scams Against Veterans:

Although WoA recognizes that it is not inherent within the VA mission to protect veterans from fraud and scams that could cost them their benefits, it suggests that it could be assistive in educating veterans against these unscrupulous tactics. For example, WoA has had multiple complaints from veterans related to timeshare deceit and bait and switch tactics, which are defined by the FBI as fraud for profit.  Often elderly veterans are mentioned as being targeted by the Timeshare Advocacy Group, TM which fights for active duty and retired military who fear losing their security clearance, career, homes or other assets.  Foreclosures and financial distress because of these misrepresented investments are happening every day to elderly disabled veterans and their families. In the past, VA has cooperated with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) over mortgage and other loan scams that caused financial hardships for veterans.  Home loans and timeshare loans are identical as both are reported as foreclosures. WoA asks that Congress consider a role for the VBA Employment and Economic Initiative (EEI) could play in cooperation with CFPB to educate and protect veterans from unscrupulous financial predators and fraudulent practices.

Consider a donation to Whistleblowers of America if you have been helped by Timeshare Accountability Group™

It’s remarkable that a timeshare member must go through this many stressful hoops concerning a product that was sold to be stress reducing. If you have skills that could help others, consider becoming a Supporter. Contact TAG.

Related articles:

3Rs or F of Timeshare

The Timeshare Tax Trap, February 26, 2019

Arizona HB 2639, March 1, 2019

Arizona HB 2639, March 5, 2019

Florida HB 435, March 15, 2019

Florida HB 435, March 19, 2019

Nevada SB, March 22, 2019

Arbitration October 24 2017

Member self-help groups

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/

Thank you Irene, this information should prove a great help to many of our readers, it is just a shame that we have to resort to this type of action. One day the industry may just realise that it is through their own greed that they are on the receiving end of so many complaints.

Once again the weekend is upon us, whatever you are doing and wherever you are, have a great weekend and join us next week for news and information on the murky world of timeshare.