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Better Business Bureau

Friday’s Letter from America

Welcome to the end of another week with Inside Timeshare and another Friday’s Letter from America. This week we welcome back Adam Siler with his article regarding what the Federal Trade Commission really does need to know about the practices used in timeshare sales and marketing. We all know and it is totally apparent that the timeshare companies allow their sales agents to say and do what they want, as long as they get the sales. How many times have we heard Diamond say that “They are not RESPONSIBLE for what their sales agents say” or “you signed the contract”. They don’t care, they have your money and then more by way of maintenance fees and continual upgrades. Things do have to change and they need to change drastically, enjoy Adam’s article.

What the Federal Trade Commission Needs to Know About Timeshare Sales and Marketing Practices 

https://lh5.googleusercontent.com/AYfEKEirNuYJzOLeJIJvTuhF7BAq--wuLMczPdmHUm9F-lblwpxzOdplbnMA1KOk5EE05lt7jYUAqY6A5Iu-F-DHQg2DsVVMnsqNuIdyAmfM1xNoS0sNnRBZT4wMc8BgAiL8eXmC

By Adam Siler

[email protected]

April 9, 2021

A group of concerned timeshare members proposed nine changes or disclosures we feel are necessary to correct unfair and deceptive timeshare sales and marketing practices. We submitted our proposed changes to the Federal Trade Commission. Your feedback would be appreciated. Part of my veteran and active-duty military outreach is to have timeshare presentations declared off-limits for active duty service members. An active duty service member may lose his or her security clearance if they foreclose on a timeshare loan.

Timeshare Sales are #7 on the FTC’s Top Ten Scams list. Anyone who experienced unfair and deceptive practices should file a complaint with the FTC.   

https://www.ftc.gov/faq/consumer-protection/submit-consumer-complaint-ftc

What can the FTC do? 

The FTC protects consumers by stopping unfair, deceptive or fraudulent practices in the marketplace. We conduct investigations, sue companies and people that violate the law, develop rules to ensure a vibrant marketplace, and educate consumers and businesses about their rights and responsibilities…. 

https://www.ftc.gov/about-ftc/what-we-do

I reached out to Inside Timeshare after experiencing deceptive timeshare sales practices in Florida. Since my article was published February 26, I received a sixth report from a timeshare member who described how the same sales agent, who promised me the elimination of 50% of my maintenance fees, told an existing member that if she achieved a new 100,000 point status, she could take 40% of her points and pay all her maintenance fees. The report was submitted by a Secret Shopper who did not buy. 

Multiple complaints against the same agent provide a level of proof, albeit a lower level of proof. It’s all about proof. Timeshare buyers need to record their sales presentation. A recording is clear and convincing evidence. Permission to record must be granted in two-party states.

Standards of Proof

  • Beyond a reasonable doubt.
  • Clear and convincing evidence.
  • Preponderance of the evidence.
  • Probable cause.
  • Reasonable belief.
  • Reasonable indications.
  • Reasonable suspicion.
  • Some credible evidence.

Preponderance of the Evidence according to Justia:

In most civil cases, the burden of persuasion that applies is called “a preponderance of the evidence.” This standard requires the jury to return a judgment in favour of the plaintiff if the plaintiff is able to show that a particular fact or event was more likely than not to have occurred. 

https://www.justia.com/trials-litigation/lawsuits-and-the-court-process/evidentiary-standards-and-burdens-of-proof/

When we asked a company employee about the new 100,000 point program proposed to our Secret Shopper, the truth is that having 100,000 points would allow the member to not have to pay maintenance fees on unused points. Accumulating this many points would require an outlay of $300,000 to $400,000 and points have no resale value. Six similar complaints against one sales agent provide a reasonable belief, indication and suspicion, but without the sales session recorded, had the Secret Shopper signed a contract, her complaint would have been dismissed because of lack of proof. Record your sales session or don’t buy.    

Nine Proposed Changes to Unfair Timeshare Sales and Marketing Practices Based on an Analysis of Common Complaints

1.   A disclosure warns the buyer that if they show their proposal to anyone outside of the timeshare company, they are subject to penalty. This is unfair, especially for those who may be of diminished capacity. Contracts can be for $100,000 or more. Any consumer should have the right to seek a professional opinion or the opinion of a friend or family member.

“Distribution of this information to unauthorized persons, including but not limited to persons not employed by agents of (the company), or to persons not listed on this option, is strictly prohibited and subject to penalty.” 

Our agent tried to convince us to purchase points for $11.40 per point. Just the week before, another sales agent attempted to sell us the same points for $4.79. Manager Brett asked us where the $4.79 came from. We shared the paperwork we had been given. He became rude and threatening saying, “it is illegal for you to have these papers.” The papers had been given to us.   

2.    If the closing (signing) is recorded, the device should not be stopped while an agent explains an item a buyer questions. The question and answer should be recorded.

3.    If a recorded closing can be used against the buyer, the buyer should be allowed the opportunity to record the sales session to prevent agents from coaching the buyer on how to “pass” the recorded signing session. 

4.    The purchase price should not appear as an inflated retail price of all purchases. An additional purchase should be identified on the contract as an “Incremental Purchase” instead of “Additional Equity” as the use of the word equity is misleading. Anyone who has been involved in a traditional real estate transaction would logically assume equity to mean actual cash value rather than vacation time. Timeshare points have little to no resale value. 

In the following complaint, a senior couple believed their sales agent; so they did not question the ability to refinance. Since they did not bring refinancing up on the recorded closing, the company initially dismissed their complaint. That’s how the recording can be used to entrap the buyer.  

Our sales agent explained that we could reduce our monthly payments by getting a HELOC through U S Bank using our “additional point equity” of $240,040 which he highlighted in green. He provided an ad and assured us a rep from U S Bank would call us after five days (the contract cancellation period). We would only have to pay $1,349 for January and thereafter $649. The purchase price was $288,300 less “additional equity” of $240,040 = $48,260 for 7,000 points. We financed: $87,405.85 including a prior loan.

5.    If disputing a contract, the buyer should be allowed to listen to the entire recorded closing without obtaining a subpoena.

6.    It should be disclosed if the QA agent is incentivized. A lawsuit states: 

It is not disclosed to the purchaser that the Quality Assurance employee has a financial stake in the transaction and is compensated based on commission dependent on the number of Quality Assurance presentations given; of which is paid only if the purchaser completes the purchase.

Case 2:18-cv-00903-RFB-GWF Document 3-1 Filed 05/18/18

7.  The buyer should be allowed 24 hours to consider their purchase. 

8.  The buyer should be provided access to the booking site prior to the end of the contract rescission period. Often first-year usage is not until the following year. Buyers don’t even know what they bought because inventory availability cannot be determined by reading the contract.  

9.  The state-mandated Public Offering Statement (POS) (Disclosure Statement) should be presented by the closing agent during the recorded closing, not by the sales agent. This state-mandated document is often hidden in a stack of documents. Two sales agents reported that the policy changed to having the sales agent provide the POS, instead of the QA agent, after the decision was made to record the closing.   

Clearly, timeshare sales and marketing practices have room for improvement. Wyndham has over 1,700 Better Business Bureau complaints and a Pattern of Complaints alert:

BBB files indicate that this business has a pattern of complaints concerning misrepresentation in selling practices. Consumer complaints report that the verbal representations are inconsistent with the written agreement. According to complaints, claims include representations that the purchase is an “investment” and the same as “real estate” in that it will increase in value. Owners report mandatory meetings that they are led to believe are to introduce new features and benefits but result in a sales presentation to purchase or upgrade their points. In some instances, owners are encouraged to complete a survey or questionnaire which results in another sales presentation to purchase additional points.

Bernadette in Oklahoma is a member of our team. She launched a Change.org petition asking that a YouTube be removed. If an Attorney General appears on YouTube warning about exit companies, a YouTube should be produced with an Attorney General warning about timeshare companies.    

https://www.change.org/Michael-Flaskey-MO-WA-AG-take-down-YouTube

Email me if you would be interested in joining our efforts to make timeshare sales more honest and accountable. Too many families like mine have been harmed. 

We seek to provide timeshare members with 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.

See the source image

Thank you Adam for your contribution this week and we look forward to receiving your next article.

To all Veterans and Serving Personnel who may have fallen foul of unscrupulous sales agents please email Adam with your story using the email address below. Only together can we influence the industry to change.

[email protected]

That is all for this week, we hope you have a great weekend and join us again next week for more information and stories about the murky world of timeshare.

News From Across the Pond

Today we travel across The Pond and report on the battles that are going on in the US with regards to Diamond Resorts. We know from past articles that Diamond are not the favourite timeshare company in the US, their underhand tactics on sales presentations have been well reported here. We have also reported on Diamonds legal battles with “exit” companies, a problem which to be honest is of their own making, today we bring you news of yet another lawsuit brought by Diamond against one such company. We also include news of another case which was concluded last year which Diamond actually lost.

First, we have a look at the latest case to be filed against an “exit” company, Mutual Release Corporation.

The case was filed at The United States District Court For The Western District Of Missouri Southern Division, with the case number 6:18 – cv – 03053 – MDH. This case ended with an injunction against the company and its agents and employees. This injunction is permanent.

The details of the injunction are far-reaching and basically ends this company’s involvement with any Diamond member. The full text of the injunction can be read at the following link:

https://www.docketbird.com/…/mowd-6:2018-cv-03053-00175

According to our friends in the US, Branson is a bit of a hotbed for some rather deceitful sales agents. It seems that one former sales manager was named in a lawsuit by Wyndham against The Transfer Group. He was working for Diamond at the time.

Another former sales agent was found to be working for an “exit” company named Mutual Release. This was not long after he had sold a Diamond member points with the promise of “making good money” by renting out his Diamond points, but as we found out some time ago this is not allowed via any 3rd party website.

But what makes this case more interesting are two of the named persons, Joseph Dickleman and Dan Chudy.

It turns out that Chudy was a former Branson sales manager and Dickleman a sales agent both with Diamond Resorts!

It also turns out that both had complaints made against them by consumers, which at first were ignored with the usual Diamond response “you signed the contract”. This dispute was later resolved.

According to our US friends, it is common knowledge that leave the company have “pirated” data, because Diamond points are not deeded, therefore that information is not readily available from any public records.

Well, we all know that sales staff keep records of all their own sales and clients, we also suspect that many will “download” further information from company records. Inside Timeshare has mentioned this on numerous occasions when answering the question “where did they get my information from as it was so detailed”!

The simple answer is it is their “insurance policy” in the case of being made redundant, don’t forget the vast majority of sales agents/reps are self-employed and paid on a commission-only basis.

Moving on now to The Newton Group, who were on the receiving end of Diamonds never-ending attacks on any “exit” company. It appears this company which has been running for 15 years has a very good reputation, with high ratings including an A+ from the BBB.

According to Diamonds complaint, The Newton Group used scare tactics in a letter about “unprecedented increases” in maintenance fees. Diamond claimed that the advertisement was “literally false”.

They petitioned the court to find a Newton Group mailshot which stated that timeshare owners “may be affected by new Timeshare Laws allowing developers to raise maintenance fees with no restriction” was false. According to Diamond, developers are not permitted to raise maintenance fees and that there are “no laws that allow maintenance fees to be raised without restriction”.

In response, The Newton Group produced evidence to the court which clearly showed that the law does indeed “permit developers such as Diamond Resorts to raise maintenance fees, and that certain maintenance fees may be raised without restriction, as evidenced by a publication made by Diamond Resorts itself wherein Diamond advises consumers that certain maintenance fees may be raised without limitation”.

They also produced evidence that Diamond does inform consumers of the following:

″[T]he only limit on any increase in Assessments for Collection Costs is the statutory general limit found in section 721.55(4)(h)2, Florida Statutes, which prohibits the total Assessments for Collection Costs from exceeding 125% of the total Assessments for the preceding fiscal year. This prohibition does not apply to the assessments levied by the Component Site Owners Associations.”

The judge agreed with The Newton Group and Diamond lost the case. The full story can be seen at the following link:

https://apnews.com/…/timeshares-lawsuits-crime-consumer…

In another publication, the BBB (Better Business Bureau) has warned the public about the practices of yet another “exit” company based in Springfield. This story can be read at the following link:

https://eu.news-leader.com/story/news/local/ozarks/2021/02/09/timeshare-exit-better-business-bureau-warns-relief-solutions-international/4439289001/

It certainly looks like the gloves are off in the US, with lawsuits between developers and “exit” companies being thrown about as if there was no tomorrow.

As we have said before, all the problems that owners/members have when it comes to ending any timeshare agreement begin with the developers themselves and their intransigent attitude to not allowing anyone to leave. Well, they will but they usually want huge sums of money to be paid to let you out, or you have to purchase another product with the promise it will end your contract in the next 2 years or whatever time scale they decide. Diamond is just one company who used this method in order to sell “fractional” in Europe, which in Spain is illegal as it is a points-based product.

Until the developers take steps to ensure that their sales agents and managers don’t lie, just to get the “sale” and allow an easy exit, then this problem will not go away. This can be seen by the number of “new exit” scams that are appearing not just in the US but also in Europe.

Inside Timeshare would like to thank our US friends for the information on this subject, we did not go into depth as the article is to show our European readers that their cousins over the pond are in the same situation.

Friday’s Letter from America

Welcome to this weeks edition of our Letter from America, today Inside Timeshare highlights another Wyndham Carriage HillsNightmare on Timeshare Street” story. Carriage Owner Jeannie is not the only senior suffering severe hardship, held hostage in an eternal timeshare contract. Wyndham’s Carriage Resorts even holds heirs that did not sign the contract liable for their parent’s timeshare. Timeshare owners worldwide were told timeshares are easy to sell since they are deeded real estate. Given this false promise, holding seniors hostage is not only unfair and deceptive, it is also cruel. Wyndham can certainly afford to treat these owners fairly. Stock investors surely cannot feel good about tactics employed to please Wall Street. Canada is not only America’s neighbour, but Canada is also part of North America.  

PARSIPPANY, N.J., February 13, 2019Wyndham Hotels & Resorts (NYSE: WH) today announced results for the three months and year ended December 31, 2018. Highlights include:

  • Revenues increased 69% compared with fourth-quarter 2017, to $527 million.
  • Net income was $43 million for the quarter; adjusted net income was $57 million, a 50% increase over the prior-year quarter.

The Tragedy of Wyndham’s Carriage Hills and Carriage Ridge Resort

A NOOSE AROUND MY NECK!

By Jeannie, a Carriage Owner

Ending comments by Irene: My two favorite timeshares!

August 30, 2019

Dear Irene,

Please forward my letter to CVOA, the Canadian timeshare advocates, and to Mr. Jason Gamel, Senior Vice President of Legal at Wyndham, due to our medical hardship. The harm that Wyndham and Carriage Resorts are causing families is unforgivable, especially for those of us experiencing medical hardships. To think we are treated as such, just because we happened to purchase a Wyndham timeshare in Canada, is appalling. 

I want to share how desperate my husband and I have been to get rid of our Carriage Ridge timeshare. Purchasing Carriage Ridge led to many unwise decisions that took place before and after my stroke in our attempt to get out from underneath this impossible financial burden. We bought at Carriage Ridge in October of 2003 for $13,326. We should have cancelled the contract the day after we signed, but we were dealing with my husband’s heart condition. My husband was admitted to the hospital with Cardiomyopathy Stage 4, just after we agreed to purchase.

On December 26, 2004, we used Carriage facilities to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We attended a meeting where we were introduced to Shell Vacation Club. We paid $13,620 to convert to points.

By 2014, I was desperate to exit the timeshare. In January of 2014, I paid a timeshare exit company $1,198 in the U.S. to help us. I cannot be specific with the name, as eventually, they refunded my money after I complained to the U.S. Better Business Bureau.

On October 15, 2016, I suffered a Thalamic Stroke. I am in constant pain on my right side and my blood pressure has been as high as 195/100. My memory has been greatly affected, from spelling, completing tasks, anxiety, depression, etc. I had to leave work in July 2017. Now the only income I have is CPP Disability and my husband is on CPP and OAS.

In October 2017 I went to a Sheraton Flex Vacation presentation. I was assured that I would be better off getting rid of Carriage Ridge by buying into Flex Timeshare. They told me about Wyndham’s Ovation program and gave me papers explaining how to apply. I gave Flex Vacation a deposit of $1,147.50 U.S.

As soon as we arrived home, we had no peace about this purchase. My husband was experiencing pain which required a hernia operation. We wrote immediately to both our sales reps and to the head office asking to terminate the sale. I was a few days late. They refused. The sales team didn’t explain all the fees, and they were not educated about Wyndham’s Ovation program not being available to Canadians.

I wrote to the Better Business Bureau about Flex Vacation, to no avail. Sheraton Flex Vacation then offered a way out, so six months later I completed the paperwork. I had a lawyer in Canada witness our signature, but Sheraton said I needed to go to the U.S. Consulate or to a U.S. lawyer to have them witness my signature. How ridiculous. I had been out enough money. I continued to receive monthly invoices, threatening letters and phone calls. That stopped after they foreclosed. It took from November 2017 to March 2019 to end that nightmare. They were liars or uninformed about Ovations.

Okay, so still desperate to be rid of my Carriage Ridge timeshare, I went to Mexico in February 2018 and ended up buying into a Vacation Plan that would require only paying maintenance fees when we used their facilities. I’m not at liberty to say which company, as they returned half our money, after I complained on Facebook and other places. Part of the issue was that they had put me in touch with TRM, assuring me of the sale of Carriage Ridge. I even received the paperwork. I contacted Carriage Ridge for my deeds and explained what was happening, only to be informed the sale wouldn’t be granted by our Board of Directors/Wyndham Club, as it was a company buying, not a person. How discouraging. 

Bottom line: DON’T TRUST ANYONE WHO SAYS THEY CAN SELL CARRIAGE HILLS/RIDGE.

I contacted the Wyndham staff at Carriage Ridge, as well as our Board of Directors saying we are not able to continue paying the increased fees. I was told I will be sued if I stop paying. I received a letter from Derek Beaudoin, Canadian ICR Ltd, a collection agency. Finally, I paid $1,325.11 and was hit with an additional fee. I asked if this could be waived. This was the reply I received from Derek.

Mrs. B,

The resort has received your e-mail (below) and forwarded it to us to respond.  The Home Owners Association will not be waiving any of the remaining balance, $341.26.

Please be aware your arrears continue to accrue interest at $0.28/day.

I wrote again, explaining my health and financial situation. Below is the email I received from Nanci Shepard, Chairman of our Board of Directors on February 22, 2019. The least Nanci could have done was not say they were very sorry for my health. If they were sorry they would not continue this financial elder abuse, especially since buyers were told they were buying deeded real estate, so no problem selling. 

Hi Jeannie,

After a lengthy discussion with my fellow board members, we have unanimously decided to NOT waive your late fees. We are very sorry for your health and personal issues but as you state you have been an owner for 15 years so you are well aware that we put these policies in place for a reason.

We are responsible to make sure the resort runs to above industry standard and we count on every owner to pay their maintenance fees in a timely manner in order for us to do just that.

There will be no further discussions on this matter and we will wait until Derek advises us you are paid and back in good standing.

Nanci

I wrote and told them they were heartless. I have to take my blood pressure daily. My family physician asked why it fluctuates so much, as high as 160/80 recently. I told him it was because of the financial burden and nightmare this timeshare has become. He has warned me the next stroke might be fatal. This timeshare is like having a noose around my neck. No one in my family wants it. My adopted son suffers from mental illness and lives on ODSP so he can never afford this.

Wyndham and our Board of Directors have really messed us up.

We believed false promises. Ongoing yearly increases for Maintenance Fees, Member Fees, Exchange fees, on top of our original investment, have really added up throughout the years. We were never told how much we would be out of pocket. We were told we owned Gold weeks, and if I return to weeks, it would be Red (whatever that means). I haven’t been able to book around our December 28 wedding anniversary the last couple of years through Shell Vacation Club. For the first time ever, I didn’t pay our Shell Vacation Club fees, so had to pay late fees. Membership fees don’t cover much.  

There have been so many changes that our heads are spinning. To sum this up, there is no longer a sales office, our maintenance fees more than doubled in 15 years, late fees 30% in my case, suing delinquent owners, there is no Ovation program, non-owners pay less to rent units, rules change without our knowledge, we pay the Wyndham staff, they make it hard to sell, our kids are being forced to inherit a timeshare, and leadership changed. NOOSE AROUND MY NECK.

Wyndham should offer all of us that need out release if we have no mortgage. We want out. I don’t want my executor having to deal with this when I pass away.

Sincerely,

Jeannie B

Comments by Irene

Thank you to Jeannie for her story. Jeannie is one of 127 Carriage Hills and Carriage Ridge owners to reach out to Inside Timeshare, expressing alarm over unreasonable and irresponsible corporate behaviour. It is our hope Wyndham and Carriage will work with these owners to salvage a resort that by all accounts could be a nice place. 

My husband and I just returned from a timeshare we purchased in 1983. Maui Hill at Maui Lea has a resale department. Hoping to get a better price, I listed it with Tom Tubbs at Island Consulting Realty, a member of the Licensed Timeshare Resale Broker Association. LTRBA members charge nothing upfront to sell timeshares that are blessed with a glimmer of a resale market. Our daughter expressed alarm, explaining that having moved so often, Maui Hill offered the only stability in her life. She graciously gave us this past week in appreciation.

We also purchased at a timeshare at Osage Beach in the Missouri Ozarks in 1984. I called Port Elsewhere and talked to the manager I had gotten to know over the years about taking the timeshare back. We are getting up in age as well. She responded, “Yeah, we had a board meeting. We decided we can’t hold hostage, loyal owners who have faithfully paid maintenance fees for decades. I’ll send you something to sign.” It was one page. We are out after warehousing decades of wonderful Ozark memories. To avoid a special assessment one year, owners donated vacuum cleaners.


Port Elsewhere

The Wyndham Carriage debacle should not be unsolvable.  

We seek to provide timeshare members with 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://tug2.com/Home.aspx

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/everything-about-timeshares-wayne-c-robinson/1129749757?ean=2940161600962

Free at Last Facebook Straight-A Guide

https://www.facebook.com/groups/623703881470577/?ref=share

Free at Last Timeshare Support Course offered by Straight-A-Guide

https://www.udprep.info/june

Bluegreen Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/groups/180578055325962/

Wyndham Facebook

New: https://www.facebook.com/groups/376743609795740/  

Wyndham Carriage Resorts Facebook

https://m.facebook.com/groups/152117225452689

Sapphire Starpoint New: https://www.facebook.com/login/?next=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fgroups%2F292083584642570%2F%3Fref%3Dshare

Diamond Resort Facebook

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

Gold Key Facebook

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

Inside Timeshare Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/groups/2213231165610648/

Thank Jeannie for your contibution and also thanks to Irene for your ending comments. These stories are becoming all to commonplace, not just for Wyndham but many other timeshare companies. The perpetual contracts being referred to are illegal in Spain, contracts must be no longer than 50 years in duration and even if the members pass away their children are not obliged to take them over. Spain recognised that it would be inherently unfair to burden the children with a contract which they had no part in signing.

If you have a story of your own and would like to share this with others, then Inside Timeshare would like to hear from you. Use our contact page and get in touch.

Have a great weekend and join us again next week.