Welcome to another Friday’s Letter from America, this week we publish revised instructions on how to file a complaint, this has been revised by one of our readers who was successful.
First a quick piece of news from Europe.
The Supreme Court in Madrid has issued another judgement, Spain’s highest court once again has defended the rights of timeshare consumers, in this case British, by declaring a Diamond Resorts contract null and void. As in all other judgements the court ruled that the contract was in contravention of Law 42/98, as the contract had no end date, known as perpetuity. The law clearly states that timeshare contracts may only be for a minimum of 3 years and a maximum of 50 years.
The court also awarded the clients all money paid in the first three months in double, this reaffirmed the court’s stance on the illegal taking of deposits within the cooling off period. Along with over £11,000 they were also awarded back their legal fees and legal interest. (click on PDF below to see court document)
This is yet another victory for timeshare consumers brought on their behalf by Canarian Legal Alliance.
Now on with this weeks Letter from America.
How to File a Timeshare Complaint (January 25, 2019 revision)
By a Timeshare Member who Followed our Complaint Process
Step 1 GATHER INFORMATION
- Read Your Contract and any documents given to you at the time of signing. If your contract offers a rescission and you are still within the offered period you should take the steps necessary to rescind immediately.
- Educate yourself! There are many resources in place that are meant to protect consumers (most of which I was completely unaware of until I had to tackle this issue). The more you know the better you will be able to stand up for yourself.
LIST OF RESOURCES AND ORGANIZATIONS TO FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH
a: AG: Attorney General – You will want to file a complaint with the AG from the state in which you purchased your timeshare. If you can connect with other buyers in your state of residence, file a complaint with your own state Attorney General. See instructions below. Some states, like California and Nevada, require you file your complaint with the state real estate division against the sales agent.
b: ARDA-ROC: American Resort Development Association-Resort Owners Coalition
ARDA Timeshare Consumer Protections Page : Did you receive one of the three required “disclosure documents”? Is there a rescission period? When did it begin/end?
Excerpts from ARDA Code of Ethics: Read this code and make note of any parts that were violated during your purchase. ARDA ROC does not mediate disputes, but they have a Code of Ethics that may be violated. The full code of ethics can be found here.
c: FTC: Federal Trade Commission-Protecting America’s Consumers There is a timeshare tab not easy to find. Follow these instructions: http://insidetimeshare.com/the-tuesday-slot-13/
d: BBB: Better Business Bureau: This is the organization that most people are familiar with and the link to file a complaint is found right on the homepage of their site. You may need to edit your complaint to 4,000 characters, sometimes no easy task. The good thing about the BBB is that they often allow you to log in and file a rebuttal if you disagree with the company’s answer to your complaint.
e: SEC: US Securities and Exchange Commission: You will only file a complaint with the SEC if you were falsely led to believe that the purchase of a timeshare was a good investment. The sale of an investment product must be registered with the SEC.
f: FBI: Sound serious? That’s because it is serious to report a complaint to the FBI. The definition of White Collar Crime is “Deceit, concealment, violation of trust, bait and switch.” File an online complaint at IC3.gov. Select Internet Crime from the three choices available. It’s confusing because your timeshare complaint doesn’t have to be about internet crime. That’s just the name of the portal.
g: Legal Action: Retaining a lawyer is something you can do after you have exhausted the above resources and still feel as though you are getting nowhere. It is a last resort option and it will cost you; make sure that the cost is worth the possible worst-case outcome. There is a compiled list of law firms that specialize in timeshare cases on one Advocacy Facebook page. Law Firms Doc You do not have to use one of these lawyers but it is recommended that you use someone who has specific experience with timeshare, and do not do business with a lawyer or a law firm you do not know. One timeshare lawyer has recently been disbarred
h: TUG: Timeshare Users Group TUG Forums: These forums are incredible for gathering information from other timeshare owners. You can search specific questions to see if anyone else has already asked and received answers.
i: Timeshare Exit Firms: BEWARE! A lot of these firms are scams. Some are not, but you can do the lion’s share of what any exit company can do. Beware especially of money back guarantees. Some companies consider foreclosure an exit. Obviously, you don’t have to pay anyone to get foreclosed. Also, it is important to note that some timeshare companies will not approve voluntary relinquishment of a timeshare if you have contracted with an exit firm.
j: Most would agree The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau does not offer the consumer protections it once did, they still regulate banks. File a complaint with the CFPB if your complaint involves a credit card. Remember to dispute the credit card charge, even if the transaction extends beyond 30 days. Some companies will extend the period if you can present a compelling case for fraud. The Secret Service also investigates credit card fraud.
Step 2 HOW TO WRITE A COMPLAINT LETTER
- Create a Record of Events: The very first thing you should do is make a list of everything that you were told by timeshare representatives (i.e. salespeople, managers, receptionists, concierge services). Write down every detail that was said even if it seems insignificant; you can always weed out details that are less important later. Your memory of the event will start to warp and change over time so it is important that you write down this information as soon as possible so that every complaint you file has consistent information.
- Organize the information:
a: Create a Timeline: 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; it at this point you should be as detailed as possible.
What was your first encounter? (phone call, concierge, sales agent)
- What resort or location did the presentation take place?
- Date and time of presentation.
- Names of all sales agents/managers that you dealt with (names will typically be listed somewhere on your contract)
- How long did they tell you the meeting would last vs what was the actual duration of meeting?
- Did they offer you food or beverages during the duration of the meeting?
- Did they take your ID and credit card? Did you ask for these items to be returned?
- If you feel you experienced unfair and deceptive sales practices, describe your experience.
- When did you first realize your agent misled you?
- Was it possible to learn you were deceived during the rescission period? Sometimes an agent will say a bogus program won’t be available until after the first of the year, or wait a few months before refinancing. Banks don’t finance timeshares. Sometime over promised availability can’t be determined until allowed onto the booking site, after the rescission period has expired.
- What steps did you take after realizing you were misled? Did you contact the agent or the company? What was their response? List dates/times if possible. Keep all emails.
- Did the sales person ask you to apply for any credit cards/loans or take any other extraordinary measures (refinance home, equity line of credit, etc.) in order to cover costs? Transferring to a third party lender complicates things.
b: List Relevant Complaints: Here is a list of some common complaints from timeshare owners. Certain misleading statements are more serious than others:
- The agent said I could easily sell my points. To find out if your timeshare has a secondary market, contact a member of the Licensed Timeshare Resale Broker Association. They charge no upfront money to list a timeshare. http://www.licensedtimeshareresalebrokers.org/
- The agent presented maintenance fee relief programs that do not exist
- 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 agent told me this would be a good investment. At least 49% of the cost of your timeshare is attributed to marketing costs (source a major timeshare company’s annual report)
- The agent said that I could rent out my timeshare for money when the company rules do not allowed renting
- 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 rescission period was dodged
Step 3 EMAIL AND SEND YOUR LETTER OF COMPLAINT
Below is an example of a sample layout with some ideas of information that you might want to include in your letter. Copy and paste your complaint into the body of an email (do not send as an attachment). Email or send to all interested parties, including customer service, ARDA ROC (if their Code of Ethics has been violated), the credit card company if a credit card is involved. You will send your complaint to regulatory agencies if your request is denied, so make sure you take the time to present your grievance clearly and factually. Have a friend or family member read your complaint before submitting to see if they understand the complaint.
Include the following information:
Name(s) of Member(s)
State of Residence
**List the following information for each contract you are disputing**
Date and Place Purchased
Number of Points Purchased
Sales Agent and Sales Agent ID# (if available)
Amount Financed and Interest Rate
Current Loan Balance
Information to include in the body of the complaint:
- What do you want? Do you seek a refund, cancellation of contract, or relinquishment?
- Why? Is it due to Deception, Health, Age or Financial Burden?
- This is your written timeline. Provide a chronological account of what happened during the sales process that makes you feel you experienced unfair and deceptive sales practices.
- Consider citing the ARDA code of ethics and what articles of the code were violated.
- Making emotional statements will most likely not help your case.
- In conclusion, restate the main complaint and what it is you are asking for.
**Complaints expressing dissatisfaction with general availability will go unheeded and so will requests based on not being able to afford the timeshare.
**If there was no deceit then request relinquishment. This is only an option if your Maintenance fees are current and you have no outstanding loan. Contact your resort for more information about voluntary surrender.
HOW TO FILE A COMPLAINT WITH THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
- File your complaint with the AG from the state in which you purchased your timeshare. In “Part 2” of the link below it explains how to find the correct AG and file a complaint. Some states, like California and Nevada, require you file a timeshare complaint with the state’s real estate division.
- Always send copies of important documents and keep originals
- If not filed online, mail your complaint via Priority Mail with tracking.
OTHER CONSUMER PROTECTION RESOURCES
- Seniors should consider contacting the AARP Fraud Hotline. Weigh their advice as they are not timeshare experts, but it is important for them to be aware that a significant proportion of complainants are age 60 or older. Click HERE to visit the AARP site.
- Remember to pay no money upfront without reaching out to other members, or a resource like like TUG Timeshare Users Group
- Forward your complaint to the Association of Vacation Owners. AVO Contact Us Page
Contact Inside Timeshare if you are interested in helping other members or have questions about the filing process. Our goal is to make consumers more aware of the financial pitfalls that can result if you buy a timeshare you don’t understand or was not presented truthfully. We know there are many who use and enjoy their timeshares and sales agents that sell the product honestly. Honest sales agents are also negatively affected by predatory sales and lending.
Well that is all for this week, remember, before engaging with any company that contacts you or you have found on the internet or through adverts in publications, do you homework and stay safe.
Have a great weekend.