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Friday’s Letter from America

For a long time now Inside Timeshare has reserved Friday for our Letter from America articles, which over the years has given consumers on both sides of the “Great Lake” or “The Pond”, depending on which side of it you are on, a glimpse to the similarities owners/members put up with. Even the scams are basically the same, from “Fake” law firms to “Resales”, even the Modus Operandi tend to be the same. Many of these have been highlighted on our pages, some of the emails and experiences have been hard to read, many have been words of thanks.

One of the main points which has been a subject for discussion on these pages are the “SALES” tactics used during the “Presentation”, this has become a thing to be dreaded by so many. The constant “upsell”, with all the false promises.

The tactics we have published in our Letter from America series are, to say the least disgusting, we dubbed them Nightmares on Timeshare Street

In most cases, the “victims” are elderly, vulnerable and sometimes with severe illness, in other stories we have heard how Veterans have been harmed, serving forces personnel have been at risk of losing their positions and security clearance. Others still, have been low-income families, we even had one story of a family losing their home.

But this is not unique to the US, in Europe, we have had our fair share of “Nightmares on Timeshare Street” stories.

One was the recurring story of Mrs B and her very long battle with MacDonald Resorts, a Scottish based company. Then there was the operation running out of Tenerife, which was once dubbed The Biggest Fraud in Timeshare History. That is one description Inside Timeshare totally agrees with.

Yes, we are talking about Silverpoint/Resort Properties, this one took timeshare to another level of fraud.

The Suites at Beverly Hills Heights, Tenerife. Sold by Silverpoint, managed by Excel. Both are part of the Limora Group.

They did not just sell one or two weeks, which is what most people actually need, no, they sold “packs” of weeks and apartments, usually around 6 to 8 in each sale. These were pitched as an “Investment” in “Property”, they would yield an income through rental, then after 2 or 3 years when they “went up” in value, they would then be sold by Silverpoint. You, making a tidy profit, NOT!

Again the smooth-talking, well-trained sales staff and managers loved to target the retired, just retired and about to retire, another group that can be added are those that were being made redundant/early retirement. It didn’t end there, as the court cases and investigations go on, more is coming to light.

In the US regulation is very complex, there are so many laws each dependent on individual states, there is no Federal Law to regulate the industry and protect consumers. The same was the case in Europe, it was a complete mish-mash, there was no Europe wide protection. Then in 1994, the first EU Directive on Timeshare was brought in. Over the years these have been augmented and updated, taking into account the lessons learnt from the past, such as increasing the cooling-off period in all EU Countries. It was also required that they were incorporated into domestic law, not just to regulate the industry but also to protect the consumer.

It’s not perfect, some countries watered them down, some strengthened them, Spain was at the forefront to enable what have become the strongest Timeshare Laws in Europe. These came into force on 5 January 1999, but, as we now know many of the timeshare companies failed to comply with Spanish Law and ignored them.

Would you accept watered-down wine?

The result is the legal cases being lost by them on a daily basis, they believed they were “untouchable”, all we can say is “It’s your own damn fault!”

Since Inside Timeshare began the US perspective, we have all learnt one thing, that you are not a lone voice, there are others out there who are going through the same thing. It is a fact, whatever practices are used across the pond, they will eventually be used this side of the great lake and vice versa.

The Fridays Letter from America slot will still be a part of Inside Timeshare, myself and Irene have learnt a great deal from these exchanges, we are also sure that all you readers have as well, we still have a lot to learn, as they say, timeshare never sleeps. The new format will not be weekly but a monthly slot, as Irene is involved in a great deal of important research work, but she will be dropping us an occasional letter. Obviously, if and when important news develops such as the Hilton acquisition of Diamond, that news will be fitted in.

Have a great weekend and join us again next week.

Friday’s Letter from America

This Letter from America was originally scheduled for publication in August, it follows the revelations published here about a crucial decision from Scotland’s Court of Sessions, by Lord Sanderson. It is a US perspective of Mr Trump and his relationship with certain timeshare moguls, just like the story of his involvement in Scotland, it does not paint a very good picture. This article also briefly shows the efforts and role of the “Regulators” in the U.S. So it ties in with another article published this week. For those of you who are not familiar with the “Timeshare Mogul” named, click on the YouTube link and watch the Queen of Versailles, you will then ask yourself the question, “Is this where my money has gone?”

Trump and Timeshare

By Irene Parker

U.S. names like Trump and Biden are not mentioned in polite company without jeopardizing relationships with friends and family. There are many reasons to like or dislike both named politicians, but those on the side of consumer timeshare protection have reason to question former President Trump’s biased stance on timeshare sales and marketing practices.

Charles reported earlier this week on questionable lending as pertaining to the Trump Organization’s acquisition of the Turnberry Resort and golf course in Scotland. A look back to what happened in 2016 provides some political timeshare history.


Pictured left front Westgate owner David Siegel

Pictured above is candidate Trump in 2016 on the stump. Westgate owner David Siegel of Queen of Versailles fame is seated to Mr Trump‘s right. The Queen of Versailles documentary describes the couple’s 90,000 square foot Orlando home that includes Mrs Siegle’s 5,500 square foot clothes closet. The documentary took Best Director at Sundance some years back.

I have no objection to great wealth, but a number of Westgate owners have reached out to me or our volunteers, unable to exit their timeshare. Some have debilitating and chronic health conditions. One couple, the husband, age 90, was forced to default on their timeshare week because Westgate objected to their paying their broker his $800 commission after the broker had found a buyer offering $500. I know of no honest timeshare resale broker (those who charge no upfront money to list a timeshare for sale) that will accept a listing for Westgate units because it is written into the contract that Westgate is entitled to 50% of the commission.

The  Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is the federal agency in the U.S. that seeks to protect consumers, along with the Federal Trade Commission. The CFPB in 2016 fined Wells Fargo $100 million when agents opened unauthorized accounts to reach performance goals and compensation incentives.

Westgate underwent a two-year investigation concerning sales and marketing practices. According to Buzzfeed News, Diamond Resorts was the next likely candidate to come under CFPB scrutiny. Not only was the Westgate investigation dropped almost immediately after the 2016 presidential election, the CFPB was all but dismantled.

REGULATORS ARE LOOKING INTO AMERICA’S LARGEST TIMESHARE SELLER March 18, 2016

https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/matthewzeitlin/financial-regulators-are-looking-into-americas-largest-times

According to the CFPB’s civil investigative demand (CID), the Westgate investigation looked into possible violations by salespeople involved in “the sale and financing of timeshares engaged in, or are engaging in, acts or practices in violation of the Consumer Financial Protection Act, the Fair Debt Collection Act, the Electronic Funds Transfer Act and the Fair Credit Billing Act.

Where is the CFPB today?

WASHINGTON, D.C.The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) today issued a report highlighting legal violations identified by the Bureau’s examinations in 2020. The report also highlights prior CFPB supervisory findings that led to public enforcement actions in 2020 resulting in more than $124 million in consumer remediation and civil money penalties. June 29, 2021

https://www.consumerfinance.gov/about-us/newsroom/cfpb-report-highlights-supervisory-findings-of-wide-ranging-violations-of-law-in-2020

Anyone who is unable to resolve their dispute, after reaching out to their timeshare company, and feels they experienced unfair and deceptive practices, should file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the state Attorney General where the contract was signed, and the Better Business Bureau. It is only because of a volume of complaints that Timeshare Sales appeared at #7 on the FTC’s list of Top Ten Scams at $17.4 million and Timeshare Resales (We have a buyer for your timeshare scams) #10 at $12.5 million.

https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2020/ftc-top-scams.html

Inside Timeshare will say this again, there is nothing wrong with the concept of timeshare, for some, it is a good option and suits their vacation needs, but as always it is the way it is sold and managed. The consumer is just the proverbial “Cash Cow” to be milked of their cash by the greed of the industry.

Inside Timeshare welcomes your views on this subject, Inside Timeshare can see many similarities in what is happening in the timeshare world, not just in Europe but in the US, Canada, Australia and elsewhere. Eventually what happens in one place will happen elsewhere, it is an international problem, so we invite you to use our contact page or just leave a comment. Have a great weekend.

Friday’s Letter from America: Timeshare Foreclosure

Welcome to this week’s edition of Letter from America, this week Irene Parker answers a question asked by many consumers when it comes down to loans/mortgages for the purchase of timeshare. This is very much a problem for our US readers as in Europe and especially in the UK all loan agreements are considered personal loans to purchase a product, any default on the loan agreement is a civil matter and is dealt with by the County Courts. The courts can order the repayment or send in the bailiffs to seize personal property to the value of the loan. The timeshare will not be seized as the loan is not collateralised by the timeshare, after all, it is worthless.

There are not many figures available on County Court Judgements made for defaults on these loans, mainly because they are listed as personal debts not attached to anything but a debt to the lender. For instance, you may have taken out a loan for home improvements, this is treated exactly the same as a loan for timeshare. It should also be pointed out that a County Court Judgement commonly known as a CCJ destroys any credit rating and will prevent you from getting any further finance. Now, considering the average age of timeshare purchasers, they are of a generation that will pay off these defaults as a debt is a debt and to receive a CCJ is out of the question. It should also be pointed out that even if consumers receive a CCJ, they are unlikely to advertise the fact on these timeshare forums, after all, it could be very embarrassing.

Is a Timeshare Foreclosure an Installment Loan Foreclosure or a Mortgage Foreclosure? 

See the source image

Is a Timeshare Foreclosure Considered Mortgage Foreclosure? 

https://gustancho.com/timeshare-foreclosure-considered-mortgage-foreclosure

On the credit report yes, but not with mortgage lenders:  Per HUD mortgage lending guidelines, a timeshare is not treated as a regular foreclosure and is treated as consumer debt. 

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the parent of FHA) classifies timeshare mortgages as installment loans and not real estate loans.

By Irene Parker

July 23, 2021

Over the past year, there have been six disturbing reports that indicate timeshare developers are becoming more aggressive in pursuing members who default on loans. If the reports listed below obtained from credible sources are accurate, timeshare buyers should NEVER finance a timeshare, and timeshare attorneys will be provided substantial job security. If you get sued, you need an attorney. There is nothing to prevent a timeshare company from suing a member, but it is more difficult to collect on a timeshare judgment as the loan is not collateralized with anything but the timeshare.

Last week on TIMESHARE TALKS Jessica Burke of Virginia Beach Timeshare Rentals discussed the benefits of renting timeshares. Renting avoids the initial outlay, and more importantly, gives the consumer time to evaluate different timeshares so as to make an informed decision as to which timeshare might be right for their family. Host John Raymond is a licensed timeshare broker and founder of Resort Reseller. Timeshares can be purchased on the secondary market for a fraction of the cost.  

https://tarda.org/f/should-i-buy-a-timeshare-or-rent-one

The lead spokesperson for ARDA-ROC, the timeshare industry lobby’s consumer advocacy arm, encouraged judicial foreclosure in about-face quotes:

“The best thing we can do with exit (is) judicial foreclosure, ruin the credit and enforce the contract,” said Ken McKelvey, chair of the American Resort Development Association-Resort Owners Coalition, according to letterhead minutes of the April 10, 2019 ARDA-ROC meeting.  (Contacted about the meeting notes, ARDA did not dispute their authenticity but said that in the minutes, McKelvey’s quotes were taken out of context.)

At a 2019 Florida legislative workshop I attended, Mr. McKelvey testified:  

“Most of the developers I know and certainly most of the timeshare managers I know, and I managed timeshare properties for thirty years… every single resort had a dissolution policy, every single one (one). There was a way to get out. You had to come to your management company, and based on what the board of directors instructed us to do in the terms if they had to pay a fee or if they had to be current, whatever those situations were, we did not have a one that did not have a dissolution policy and a hardship policy….” 

Timeshare members donate $5 to $10 per contract to ARDA-ROC in mostly “opt-out” donations. These donations are not as voluntary as they sound. When I asked that the $7 not be charged to my credit card along with my maintenance fees, it was charged anyway. When I called to ask that the $7 be removed, I was told they had to fill out an internal form to do so. That was back in January. Another member recently reported they had to call three times to have the $7 removed. Collectively, ARDA-ROC raises approximately $5 million a year from members.  

Following are five additional disturbing reports:

  1. One developer’s contract used to specifically state that they do not pursue summary judgments. That language has been removed.
  2. Eric Olsen, an attorney of 42 years, was quoted in Kiplinger, to the ire of timeshare developers, when asked what happens when someone stops paying: “I ran this often-asked question by Salem, Ore.-based attorney Eric Olsen, founder of HELPS, a national nonprofit law firm that helps lower-income seniors with debt they can’t afford to pay. Olsen concluded our interview by urging readers to, “Consider walking away from the timeshare, as they generally have no value. Stop paying and ignore their communications.   It will eventually get foreclosed and owing any deficiency is highly unlikely.” Kiplinger, April 26, 2021  
  3. Westgate’s VP of Mortgage Services stated in recent court documents that Westgate “probably” has a 30% default rate. Westgate’s lenders can’t be happy with that high default rate. Other developers have default rates that exceed 20%.
  4. Hilton Grand Vacations and Orange Lake/Holiday Inn have sued members defaulting on loans, according to one exit provider.
  5. Another source reported an upsurge in attorney hiring.    

What does this mean to timeshare members and owners?

According to HomeGuidesSF:

The company may sue you in civil court to obtain a judgment. If the judge issues a judgment against you, the management company may garnish your wages or levy your bank account to get the money you owe.

Deeded timeshare owners face a different dilemma. If you stop paying on your timeshare loan, you face foreclosure. Foreclosure is the process whereby the lender files to take possession of the property and sell it at auction to recover the money you owe. There are two main types of foreclosure: judicial and non-judicial foreclosure. In a judicial foreclosure, the lender files a foreclosure lawsuit and takes you to court. The judge may issue a deficiency judgment for the remaining balance due after the auction. A non-judicial foreclosure is basically a paperwork shuffle. Your contract authorizes the trustee to sell the timeshare in the event you stop paying on it. You receive the official Notice of Default and the Notice of Sale. In California, the majority of foreclosures are non-judicial foreclosures where the lender cannot receive a deficiency judgment after the sale of the property.

https://homeguides.sfgate.com/can-sued-not-paying-timeshare-51679.html

Yahoo Finance reporter Abigail Fisher recommends timeshare stocks because consumers are tricked into signing contracts they can’t get out of: 

Best Stocks to Buy According to Hedge Funds

We find evil companies to be a very rewarding hunting ground to uncover long-term stock winners. In our opinion companies like Philip Morris (PM), Facebook (FB), Apple Inc. (AAPL), Alphabet (GOOGLE) are evil companies that delivered 1000% or more gains to their investors.

In this article we are going to look at another set of evil companies that use high pressure sales tactics to trick consumers into signing complex long-term contracts that they don’t understand: timeshare marketing companies. Check out this Reddit post where the user is asking several questions about Wyndham timeshare cancellation. This person was able to cancel and receive a full refund, but many consumers don’t cancel within the 7-day or 10-day window specified in their contracts.

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/best-timeshare-stock-buy-according-135051667.html

How would this reporter feel if the buyer tricked, was her grandmother? Tiffany’s parents were kept for 11 hours, their IDs withheld. They lost their two deeds they had since 1998, and $34,000. They were told that if they didn’t convert their deed to points, maintenance fees would increase from their current fees of $2,000 to $6,000. The transaction resulted in maintenance fees of $6,000 which they could not afford. Tiffany’s interview: 

https://tarda.org/f/how-giving-up-deeded-timeshares-turned-into-tragedy

Many timeshare members and owners, who report unfair or deceptive sales and marketing practices, are senior citizens in their 60s, 70s, some in their 80s and 90s. They have maintained lifelong high credit scores, but are faced with little choice but to default on a timeshare loan if the resort dismisses their complaint because they signed a contract. There is little to no secondary market. Coupled with interest rates ranging from 12% to 20% (higher if credit card financing), a timeshare can become a financial nightmare. About a third of those reaching out are younger. The youngest was 19 and pregnant when she signed a perpetual timeshare contract at midnight – after a six-hour presentation.

Timeshare members can negotiate directly with their resort to resolve a dispute, but expect to be challenged with: 

  • You signed a contract,
  • Your allegations are unsubstantiated, 
  • We are not responsible for what our sales agents say,
  • You didn’t question this on the recorded closing (because you believed the sales agent or were coached on what to say or not say). 

How can this posturing and ongoing war between developers and those providing exit services be healthy for the timeshare industry? 

People, members of the media, and even the Federal Trade Commission have started addressing why thousands of members reach seeking release from an unwanted timeshare. The FTC lists Timeshare Sales at #7 on their current Top Ten Scam list and Timeshare Resales (fake buyers) #10.

Related Articles: FTC:  Timeshares: Yes? No? Maybe?

https://salinapost.com/posts/5de93b95-4ba0-4acb-8527-80dd7effccaf

Top Ten Scams

https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2020/ftc-top-scams.html

Senior Defaults

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/senior-timeshare-defaults-irene-parker/

HOAs Benefit from Onsite and Offsite Timeshare Resale Programs

https://tarda.org/f/hoas-benefit-from-onsiteoffsite-timeshare-resale-programs

Thank you Irene, a very interesting article and I hope it helps to answer some of the questions we receive.

It should also be pointed out that in the UK, one bank, Shawbrook Bank, did acknowledge a few years ago that they did not carry out their due diligence when authorising timeshare loans, meaning many agreements were signed without the affordability checks. The bank set aside around  £9 million to cover any defaults on these loans as they would have had great difficulty in enforcing these loan agreements in the County Courts. The CEO at the time was forced to resign as he was the one that arranged the agreements with the timeshare companies.

Another point is all timeshare sales companies must be authorised in order to broker these loans, before April 1st, 2014 these would have been authorised by The Office of Fair Trading and from that date by the Financial Conduct Authority. A case that Inside Timeshare has been following was the validation of these agreements by Barclays Partner Finance for loans brokered by Azure Service Ltd who were not authorised. This validation order would legalise the loan agreement and make it enforceable in law.

Inside Timeshare has already uncovered many timeshare companies who brokered loan agreements with various lenders and have found that the vast majority have never been authorised. This investigation is ongoing and is being used to end loan agreements.

That is all for this week, have a great weekend, and join us again next week for more news and information on the murky world of timeshare.