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Federal Trade Commission

The Tuesday Slot

Welcome to this weeks Tuesday Slot, today we have an article by an Industry Observer, who we have kept anonymous as per their wishes, the question posed is How is a Timeshare Point Valued? Our writer begins with the question “Why does Spain not allow points-based perpetual contracts?” As you read the article the answer to that question does become very apparent.

So on with this weeks article.

How is a Timeshare Point Valued?

June 4, 2019

I created a Spreadsheet after we bought points back in 2004 to see if I was getting my money’s worth. I added in maintenance fees. Not sure if I’m right but the bottom line was the only value the points have is if you use them. I went to numerous free weekends. I figured I should count those. Our bottom line average is around $95 a night. Usually, we could get through painful sales pitches quickly but our last visit to Vegas turned into abduction. I figure they are getting desperate. If you bought thinking these points had value beyond their sales pitch you were sadly mistaken. If the timeshare industry wants to survive and thrive they better create a secondary market and quickly. The competition is fierce. Websites like VRBO provide lots of options for less than your annual maintenance fee. Quality will be all over the map. Tim Dugan’s Facebook post

By an Industry Observer

Why does Spain not allow points-based perpetual timeshare contracts? In America, we think we have a lot going for us. After all, “we” invented the internet after inventing the computer. “We” invented baseball, Mickey Mouse, and McDonald’s. And “we” blessed the world with Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Harrison Ford, and Clint Eastwood….

Do “we” have the best of everything? No way… We have bad highways. Some of our bridges are crumbling. Our national debt is ballooning. We can’t agree on immigration.  Our politicians constantly bicker.

“We the people” are supposed to have government agencies that protect us from threats inside and outside our borders – like the FAA (air travel), the FBI (crime), FDA (food and drug), DEA (drug enforcement), and CIA (foreign threats), to name a few.  

Do “we” have a Vacations and Timeshare (VAT) agency to protect timeshare buyers? No, we don’t. Timeshare and vacation companies are regulated by individual states. There has been no action on the part of the Federal Trade Commission to step in. It is “buyers beware” on that venue.   

There are some ominous and problematic indicators. Timeshare companies, at least two, are reporting loan loss provisions greater than 20%. If we calculated the actual dollar amount of foreclosed timeshare loans, given enormous revenue streams, the dollar amount would be staggering. This is just an accounting line item to the industry players, but the loan loss number includes a multitude of seniors and veteran families financially devastated after being up-sold into high-interest rate loans and higher interest rate credit cards. For those who maintained high lifelong credit scores, the foreclosure process is demeaning and degrading. Many have reported unfair and deceptive sales practices.  

Wyndham has increased its loan loss provision to 21%, as reported by Jason Garcia at The Florida Trend:

Timeshare Companies and Exit Companies are Blaming Each Other for Rising Default Rates

Of the company’s nearly 900,000 owners, only 200,000 have loans. However, the company expects to set aside 21% of its gross sales to cover losses in 2018 — meaning it expects not to collect $21 of every $100 it loaned.

https://www.tetli-institute.com/scrapping-timeshare-usa-26102018

Diamond Resorts International Inc. has been downgraded to CCC+ on very high anticipated leverage. Their outlook is negative, as reported by AC INVEST.

https://www.ademcetinkaya.com/2019/04/diamond-resorts-international-inc.html?fbclid=IwAR1gO6Z6cI-emaClmHkccP4_8XWyOpJYRgJsN40Pd0ydbr1e7DifJW76PZE

Timeshare CEOs don’t seem very worried about rising defaults touting increased sales and an increase in first-time buyers. A circle of sell, up-sell, foreclose and sell the same points again and again ensues. And points don’t depreciate like a car. It’s a cash cow.

Timeshare operators have been adept at capitalizing on the limited protections afforded their prospects. They’ve adopted:

  1. The same day sale, after a gruelling sales session,
  2. Electronic signing, difficult for even the most technically savvy to read,
  3. Perpetual contracts, accompanied by rising maintenance fees,
  4. No secondary market,
  5. Pitfalls, like availability, that can’t be determined by reading the contract,  
  6. Ways to dodge the rescission period by not allowing access to the booking site until after the rescission period has ended,
  7. Recording the closing, but not allowing the recording of the sales session,
  8. Sales agents that coach buyers on how to “pass” QA,
  9. Over-reliance on the verbal representations clause,
  10. Point “members” stripped of all beneficial rights of real estate ownership,
  11. False scare tactics about heirs inheriting the timeshare if deeded.                                                                                                      

What’s right with timeshare points?

Point contracts do offer the flexibility of being able to stay for more or less than the typical week. They allow for incremental purchases.

What’s wrong with timeshare points?

Refer to Figure A and B below. A look at the original timeshare model shows that developers sold a week or weeks guaranteeing the customer that they would always be able to stay a particular week at a particular location. A common complaint comes from deeded week owners who complain they could not get access to the unit, and sometimes not even the resort they had stayed at for years after they gave up their deed. This is especially true at prime locations, like Virginia Beach during summer months.

On the old real estate system, due to location and seasons, each resort had a quantity of valuable weeks, and also “dog” weeks.  July 4th in Hilton Head would be a valuable week.  So would Christmas in Aspen, Colorado. But winter in Cape Cod would be dog weeks.  Customers knew this and usually didn’t buy into “dog” weeks. In a “weeks” model, a graphic representation of anyone resort might look like Figure A.  The very best weeks would be in the centre of the graph, with value declining until you reach the very outside of the circle. If your resort was in a great location, with great weather year round, like Hawaii, you would be in the bullseye year round.


Figure A

Imagine now, a complete resort system converted into points as illustrated in Figure B.  Instead of red, blue and white weeks, you are now sold loyalty levels. There are no more ‘best red weeks’ in the system. The buyer has lost control. The developer now controls who gets to vacation when and where. Add to this scenario the developer’s ability to rent out inventory and you have an unfair advantage of developer over point buyer.


Figure B

But wait – what is the area outside the second line from the bullseye showing the “good and best” points? That is where the developer can sell points, but the chances of taking a great vacation may not be possible. A fixed week buyer knew they were buying Branson in January, maybe hoping to exchange it. The buyer that buys 2,500 points compared to the Platinum member’s 50,000 points dictates less availability. Certainty is gone.  The “point” to remember is that in a points-based system, the “dog” weeks become part of inventory just like “best” weeks. This puts a load on the “best weeks” inventory. When it comes to booking, somebody won’t get what they want.

In a pure points system, the developer is NOT selling a vacation. The developer is selling the “opportunity” to vacation SUBJECT TO AVAILABILITY.  Two factors determine the success of timeshare owners in a pure points system:

  1. Having enough points to meet your vacation needs, and
  2. Booking at the earliest possible date.

The complaint sites are littered with people, some even highest loyalty members,   complaining about availability. Say a buyer bought 5,000 points because that is what they could afford on a monthly basis. Those 5,000 points might get them a week in Myrtle Beach – in the winter but only two days at Myrtle Beach in the summer, if you’re lucky.  The sales agent can promise anything, “Any place you want to stay, any time you want.”

The first time buyer is scheduled for an orientation in which they are told, “I can’t believe that sales agent sold you so few points! You can’t stay anywhere with 5,000 points!” The member is sadly informed of his dilemma.  BUT, the new and improved sales agent “corrects” the mistake created by the first agent. Buy more points!

As an inducement to upgrade, some systems have early bookings for highest loyalty level members, then advance booking for one tier down, and finally open booking for everyone else. Consider this day and age of the instant internet. Booking vacations over a year out seems antiquated.

Granted, if you have a fluid vacation schedule, as many retired do – and can travel slightly offseason, you might find a pure points system to be of value.  But don’t go to a sales meeting unprepared, facing a tag team of three against two. Be an informed timeshare buyer. Read what existing members have to say on Tug2.net, Redweek and member sponsored Facebooks. The point system can be unfair and have drawbacks, but they can be resources for those who know how to maximize their use.

The informed consumer is the best consumer. Don’t fall for a pipe dream vacation.

Comments by Irene

Thank you Industry Observer. Your article prompted me to search back to 2017 to revisit our “Is This Timeshare Proposal merely Monopoly Money?” https://insidetimeshare.com/timeshare-proposal-merely-monopoly-money/

Self-help groups we feel are not industry influenced including TUG, which consists of a balanced group of members for and against timeshare.

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://everythingabouttimeshares.com/consider-exchange-options/

Bluegreen Facebook

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

Wyndham Facebook

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

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/

We began with the question Why Spain does not allow points or perpetuity contracts, the simple reason is availability, with a fixed week system your are guaranteed the holiday time you purchased, you basically own that particular week. With points you own nothing, just a right to use subject to availability, you are a member of a vacation club not an owner. According to the ruling from the Spanish Supreme Court, points and floating week systems lack any substance, you are paying for a promise, or to put it simply you are buying fresh air.

For example we have a resort with 180 apartments, with fixed weeks they can only sell 51 weeks in each, that gives you a total number of weeks available at 9,180, that means you may only have that number of owners, great they all get their weeks. Now let us change this to a points based system, let’s say the vacation club only doubles its membership, we now have 18,360 members. Hang on we only have 9,180 weeks available, that means 9,180 members will not get their holiday at that resort this year.

Along with that, yes, you guessed it, the timeshare company has now also doubled their income in management fees!

They make more money but at the expense of the members who cannot get the holidays they want.

Spain also outlawed the perpetuity contract, this particular law came into force on 5 January 1999, the duration for any contract was to be a minimum of 3 years and a maximum of 50 years and was ignored by the industry. It was also envisaged that the age of the purchaser should also be taken into consideration, for example a couple aged 55, would not really require the maximum of 50 years, so why not sell them 25 years. The law makers also believed that perpetuity was inherently unfair to the children of purchasers, as timeshare was always sold with the idea it was property or real estate and therefore would be inherited. Their motive was why should the children be liable for the ongoing liability of maintenance on a contract they did not instigate.

These points are now the subject of many legal actions going through the Spanish courts and it is costing the industry millions in repayments along with all contracts being declared null and void. Spain is at the forefront of protection for consumers regarding timeshare and how it is sold, it is only a matter of time before others do the same.

Friday’s Letter from America

Welcome to another Friday edition of Letter from America, today we welcome the Madden Family with their “Nightmare on Timeshare Street”, this time it is Orange Lake in Orlando. It is another story of deceptive sales practices by sales agents working on behalf of the timeshare developer and the lack of a secondary market. It is a story we are all too familiar with at Inside Timeshare.

A TRUE STORY by an Orange Lake Timeshare Buyer

May 31, 2019

By the Madden Family

We recorded our Orange Lake experience on YouTube hoping to prevent others from making the decision we unfortunately made. I’m told Orange Lake is no worse than several other timeshare companies. Buyers who no longer can use the timeshare are held hostage with no choice but to walk away due to the lack of a secondary market.

Our YouTube

We purchased an Orange Lake Resort Timeshare in Orlando, Florida in 2014. It was the day after Christmas. After hours of mouth flapping, winning smiles, scribbled notes in illegible writing, we were fairly pliable and ended up signing a contract we now know is worthless. This has been a source of massive stress.

Here are the unfair and deceptive timeshare sales practices we experienced which readers will have heard countless times: The sales agent told us that we were making an investment that would appreciate like any other investment. Timeshares are worthless.

  • The sales agent said the timeshare had built-in equity from a prior owner. There is no such thing as equity when it comes to a timeshare. Timeshares are a liability. The sales agent said that since this had been owned by a prior party, we had to buy “today” or the price tomorrow would be without equity, so full price. This was nonsense.
  • The sales agent said we could easily refinance, replacing the exorbitant 26% financing provided by Orange Lake. This was not true. Banks don’t finance timeshares because they are not an asset.
  • The sales agent said there was a resale market. We tried that market but were scammed the same way we were scammed into buying the timeshare.
  • The sales agent said he wasn’t a salesman, just there to help timeshare owners find buyers. He was a salesman.
  • The sales agent said an Orange Lake timeshare is like any other property. You can deduct mortgage interest. You can’t deduct timeshare loan interest.
  • The sales agent said we could cover the cost of owning the timeshare by renting it out. He said he would help us rent. He didn’t.
  • The sales agent said we could book wherever we wanted easily. We wanted to book west coast Florida but were told it was unavailable and would be unavailable through the next year. We tried to book Cape Canaveral, Panama City Beach Resorts or Galveston, but that was unavailable. We ended up in Las Vegas as a last resort. We were never able to book with the ease the sales agent promised.

The moral of our story is that you can’t believe a word a timeshare sales agent says. I know there are timeshare members who use and enjoy their timeshare, but there are also thousands and thousands of complaints. Before buying, check the happy and unhappy buyer sites. Weigh each side, because your only discernable truth will come from those who bought timeshares, not from those who sell them.    

We tried reaching out to Orange Lake with our concerns but were ignored. The lack of communication from Orange Lake made us feel like they have no cares whatsoever for their customers, or about the deceptive claims their sales agent make, as long as they get their money. They were never in a hurry to answer our concerns, but have invested considerable time to call us daily, repeatedly, to collect money.

When we filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau, Orange Lake responded with a copy of our contract. Surely signatures do not exempt a company from promising a diamond but delivering a piece of coal. Where is the Federal Trade Commission?

We intend to tell our story in as many places as possible to warn others. Too many families are being financially harmed so that sales agents can earn commissions and timeshare companies can report profits at the expense of hard-working citizens. Citizens harmed spent a lifetime buying cars and houses, relying on the integrity of the seller, integrity that, based on our experience, does not exist in timeshare.

Join our efforts!

Contact Inside Timeshare to join this family’s efforts to help others. Following are self-help groups we feel are not industry influenced.

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://everythingabouttimeshares.com/consider-exchange-options/

Bluegreen Facebook

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

Wyndham Facebook

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

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/

Thank you to the Maddens for sharing the experience of your own “Nightmare on Timeshare Street”, many of our readers will recognise some of the tactics and deceptions from their own experiences. Is it not time the timeshare industry reigned in these unscrupulous sales agents, then they may have a product which does not court controversy, complaints and above all misery to consumers. It is only through you the readers sharing your stories and coming together which helps others to see that they are not alone, together you do have a voice that can change the industry.

If you would like to share your own “Nightmare on Timeshare Street” or have a happy story to tell of good sales practise and consumer protection, Inside Timeshare would love to hear from you.

Are you a European owner of a timeshare in the US and want to get out, are you a US owner of a timeshare in Europe especially purchased in Spain and want to know how Spanish law protects you, then use our contact page and lets us know, we will point you in the right direction.

Have a great weekend and join us again next week.

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.

Friday’s Letter from America

Welcome to the last Letter from America of 2018, we hope that you all had a very good Christmas and are looking forward to the New Year. For this last Letter from America, Irene Parker had to make a last minute change, once again a timeshare company responded before publication.

The Satisfaction of a Dispute Resolved

By Irene Parker

December 28, 2018

The article originally scheduled for today was pulled because the dispute was resolved. The timeshare company listened to a well written complaint and followed the above circle of resolution.

Like most of the timeshare members reaching out to Inside Timeshare, the family featured in the original article is struggling with a medical crisis. I spent this Christmas in Houston at the MD Anderson cancer center dealing with our own family crisis. As our family begins our stages of grief, I thought about all the timeshare families that we have talked to over the last two years that have experienced the same. I can’t imagine receiving debt collection calls in the middle of our personal medical crisis. Making matters worse, all but a handful of the 646 families that have contacted us describe unfair and deceptive sales practices.  

According to cancer.gov, approximately 38.4% of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes (based on 2013-2015 data). I estimate about 60% of our readers have experienced some form of debilitating illness. This is when they learn the timeshare they were told would be easy to sell, is not. Often there is a loan outstanding, so a voluntary surrender program is not an option. https://www.cancer.gov/

I will never forget the 100% disabled Agent Orange veteran who was up-sold into an unnecessary loan. The sales agent was aware this double Purple Heart veteran had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Due to the circumstances, there was no question he experienced unfair and deceptive sales practices. He contacted me six times the last month of his life. His wife contacted me with just hours left to live because the credit card company was hounding them for the down payment. The timeshare company did resolve the dispute, but how unfair this decorated veteran had to spend his last days battling his timeshare company.

A recent caller was told she should pay an exit company $6,000 because she would be responsible for her father’s timeshare after her father’s passing. This was not true. In the case of this member, the company offers a voluntary surrender program and would have easily taken back the timeshare. Their contract even states heirs are not responsible for the timeshare.   

Contact Inside Timeshare if you receive a call from someone employing scare tactics to get you to sign up with their exit company or give up your deeded timeshare.  

How Timeshare Companies have dealt with complaints:              

According to all but a handful of our readers, timeshare companies have responded to their complaints with:

  • We are not responsible for what our sales agents say,
  • You signed a contract,
  • It sounds like he said, she said,
  • You have no proof,
  • If this was important to you, you should have asked for it to have been added to the contract,
  • All that matters is what is in the contract.     

How complaints should be dealt with according to thebalancesmallbusiness:

No one likes hearing complaints, and many of us have developed a reflex shrug, saying, “You can’t please all the people all the time”. Maybe not, but if you give the complaint your attention, you may be able to please this one person this one time – and position your business to reap the benefits of good customer service. Properly dealt with, complaints can become opportunities. They give you the chance to discover issues and correct them, thereby improving your customer service. Market research has found that customers who have complained about a product or service and had that complaint successfully dealt with are 70 percent likely to order from the vendor again.  

https://www.thebalancesmb.com/rules-for-good-customer-service-2948079

Sun Trust Bank offers these words of hope and encouragement  

http://www.bankrate.com/finance/real-estate/debt-collector-demands-huge-fees-on-past-due-time-share.aspx

“Now, if you were deceived or otherwise legally abused in the purchase, you can file a complaint against the seller. Each state has a different process so you’ll have to contact your state’s attorney general to determine the jurisdiction. Have a narrative of your complaint and a copy of your contract when filing. The agency will contact you if it finds a valid violation of real estate statutes (or sometimes banking statutes), especially if it involves deceptive sales practices. Collectors must legally back off in such under-dispute cases, though many don’t.”

“By the way, consumer complaints about abusive debt collectors have nearly tripled in less than a decade, according to the Federal Trade Commission. They’re exceeded only by identity-theft cases, says the FTC, which has sued about 200 collection companies since 2010. Many have been banned from doing business.”

We are primarily members helping members, providing straight answers on how to file regulatory and, if necessary, law enforcement complaints. It is our hope lawmakers and regulators will take note of our efforts to stop the financial harm caused by timeshare sales agents and companies that hide behind the oral representation clause.

A significant percentage of our readers are in their 60s and 70s, some in their 80s, with high US credit scores around 800, suddenly faced with timeshare foreclosure. About a third is younger. The youngest was 19 and pregnant when she signed a perpetual timeshare contract after a six hour presentation.

Contact Inside Timeshare or one of the following self-help groups if you have a concern about your timeshare.

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/

So that’s it for 2018, it has certainly been a roller coaster year, so many complaints, many of them veterans, many have been resolved, to the timeshare companies that did take notice, well done and thank you. All we can hope for is that 2019 will see many more start to change their ways.

From Inside Timeshare, we wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year.

The Tuesday Slot

Welcome to this weeks Tuesday Slot, once again this is not the article we had scheduled, that has been pulled at the last minute. The original article (which as always was sent to the timeshare company Holiday Inn Vacation Club for comment), was a particularly heart wrenching story of woe, but thanks to someone at the timeshare company, (some of them do have a heart), the matter has been resolved. All we can say to Holiday Inn Vacation Club is thank you and well done for responding so quickly.

Inside Timeshare has been receiving many emails from readers wanting to check on companies calling them, it is that time of year, as maintenance bills start to arrive, so all these companies are getting in with the usual pitch, we can get you out of your timeshare. Unfortunately most are bogus and fake law firms, which we have highlighted in previous articles. So beware the caller, get as much information about them as possible, then contact Inside Timeshare for further help.

We have also heard from one of our German readers regarding Diamond Resorts (Europe), it would appear that Diamond may have changed the policy on exiting the contract. We do know they have exceptional circumstance, which are over 75, death of a partner, financial difficulty and medical, where they will allow exit for free. For those who do not fall into this category they were allowing an exit on payment of 2 years maintenance, well, according to our German reader who applied for this, he was told “NO”! They would only let him out when he fits the exceptional circumstances or reaches 75, until then he must continue to pay maintenance.

We will be keeping an eye on any other developments regarding this, it does seem strange that this policy has suddenly changed. If any of our other readers have experienced this please do let us know, it may be that this was just a one off incident from an un-informed member of staff.

How to File a Timeshare Complaint (October 22, 2018 revision)

               

Start with the Attorneys General Office

If necessary, continue to the FBI at IC3.gov

Finish with the Federal Trade Commission, if Section 5 is violated

If you were sold a timeshare as an investment, file an SEC complaint

“I was told that in order to be released from a timeshare, which was a deeded timeshare, I had to turn the deed into points. Believing the sales agent, on June 19th I bought $12,000 worth of points for no reason. A few weeks after the purchase I learned through Social Media the company has a voluntary surrender program. I had told the sales agent that my wife had bought this timeshare 18 years ago and that I had hated it for 18 years. I explained that I was only attending the presentation to find out how to get rid of it. At that point he should have advised me of the voluntary surrender program instead of selling me points for no reason. The response from the company was it sounds like a ‘he said she said’ and to make matters worse, there is a six month waiting period for the voluntary surrender program.”

We have received 634 timeshare complaints as of October 22, 2018. Recently, several complaints have been from timeshare members who say they were told the timeshare was an investment; the timeshare could be rented for income, and would be easy to sell. The complaints were directed against four timeshare companies.

Marketing a timeshare for the purposes of generating income, or leading the buyer to believe the retail price is what the timeshare is worth, is selling the timeshare as a security without being registered as a security with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Therefore, we have added the SEC as an avenue for grievance if this applies to you.

We have also added the AARP fraud alert. The AARP hotline responders have been responsive, but misleading in their advice. We will be publishing an article shortly to address why we believe AARP is providing misleading information.

https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/?CMP=KNC-DSO-Adobe-Bing-FWN-Core-Brand-Brand&s_kwcid=AL!4520!10!73804843580956!73804805721970&ef_id=W0ZctQAAAJQd2ANC:20180725171110:s

One Attorney General’s office is directing people to a list of timeshare attorneys. The member pays the attorney, the attorney has no timeshare experience, and the member ends up referred to us. We help for free and the lawyer gets paid. This has happened several times. Do not use an attorney without timeshare experience. The field is too specialized.   

In all but a few cases, the timeshare company has dismissed member complaints with “You signed a contract” or “It doesn’t matter what the sales agent said.” If timeshare companies would acknowledge that some timeshare sales agents do intentionally mislead the consumer, there would be no need to file complaints and no reason for the existence of member supported advocacy groups.

According to FBI agents and lawyers our advocates have consulted, it is not legal to hide behind fine print, but it takes volumes of complaints to raise a regulator’s eyebrow. The Federal Trade Commission released its 2017 complaint report, listing travel, vacation, and timeshare as one of the most costly frauds at $1,710. Our reader complaints dollar amounts range from $4,000 to $400,000 or more. We wish members were only losing $1,710. Inside Timeshare has received complaints from 81 veterans and active duty military and law enforcement.   

Travel, vacation, and timeshare frauds were the most costly with people losing a median amount of $1,710. The FTC also broke out fraud losses for members of the military and found their median fraud loss to be 44 percent higher than the general population.

https://www.jacksonsun.com/story/opinion/columnists/2018/04/06/ftc-releases-2017-complaint-statistics/493425002/

Most of the members contacting us have an outstanding loan. The industry has created this nightmare because if you buy a house and have a loan outstanding, you can still sell the house. When the member alleges they experienced unfair and deceptive sales practices, they have signed a perpetual contract with little or no secondary market. Timeshare companies list a viable secondary market as a risk to their shareholders.

Timeshare Members need to be especially vigilant about “Get you out of your timeshare” firms because many are scams. Some are not. Timeshare Advocacy Group™ (TAG) has a scam research team formed by members who have themselves been scammed. This 15 page US Department of Justice timeshare scam report illustrates the seriousness and extent of the problem, caused by the lack of a viable secondary market.     

https://search.justice.gov/search?query=timeshare+scam+report&op=Search&affiliate=justice  

Advocates for reform feel the problems that exist in the industry today are caused by an overreliance on the oral representation clause, iron clad developer based contracts, the lack of an adequate secondary market, and limited enforcement. We don’t dispute there are many who use and enjoy their timeshare and many sales agents who sell the product properly, but here are the most common timeshare complaints reported by our readers:

  • The agent said I could easily sell my points,
  • The agent overstated the value of travel awards to pay for airline tickets, or the use of a travel credit card to pay maintenance fees,
  • The agent said I had to give up my deeded timeshare and buy points,
  • The agent said I have to give up my deed and buy points or my heirs will be burdened,
  • The rescission clause was dodged because the agent said the (bogus) program would not be available until after the first of the year, or we were not allowed access to the booking site until after the rescission period.    

To begin your complaint, raise your right hand.

Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God? Present your information factually and without opinion or inflammatory language.

Information Needed to File a Timeshare Complaint

Name (s) and age of member

Phone Number

State of Residence

Member Number

For each contract in dispute:

Where Purchased and Date of Purchase

Number of Points Purchased

Sales Agent and Sales Agent ID# (if available)

Purchase Price

Down Payment

Amount Financed and Interest Rate

Loan Number

Current Loan Balance

Name of Credit Card if one was used to pay the down payment

What do you want? Do you seek Refund or Relinquishment?

Why? Is it due to Deception, Health, Age or Financial Burden?

Complaints expressing dissatisfaction with general availability will go unheeded as will a request based on not being able to afford the timeshare. If you feel you were deceived, list the reasons why. If there was no deceit, ask for relinquishment. Maintenance fees must be current and there can be no loan outstanding. Just like your personal residence, you can’t go to your home mortgage lender and say you can’t afford it. The difference is you can sell your home if there is an outstanding loan.  Section 5 Federal Trade Commission, explains unfair and deceptive practices:

FTC Unfair Practices

An act or practice is unfair where it

  • causes or is likely to cause substantial injury to consumers;
  • cannot be reasonably avoided by consumers; and
  • is not outweighed by countervailing benefits to consumers or to competition.

 

FTC Deceptive Practices

An act or practice is deceptive where

  • a representation, omission, or practice misleads or is likely to mislead the consumer;
  • a consumer’s interpretation of the representation, omission, or practice is considered reasonable under the circumstances; and
  • the misleading representation, omission, or practice is material.

https://www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocs/supmanual/cch/ftca.pdf

MOST IMPORTANT – Purchase Timeline

It is better to state your narrative as a narrative referring back to the figures at the top of your complaint. Begin with when you first became involved with the company and proceed chronologically. Keep your history brief up to the point when things began to go wrong.

After you complete your complaint, email it to the appropriate resort department. Expect to be denied. Typically your resort reviewer will restate your concerns, produce your initials and signatures, point out the oral representation clause and inform you, “If something was important to you, you should have asked for it to be put in the contract.” File a rebuttal if you disagree with the company response.

Mark your email to the resort urgent if you are in financial distress. It is best to file a complaint before the debt collectors are hounding. If one of our advocates is assisting the member, the member will report back to us if the issue is resolved. Due to the required non-disclosure, terms and conditions will not be discussed.

Attorneys General

If the resort has dismissed your complaint, the next step is to file a complaint with the Attorney General of the state where you signed your contract. It can take sometimes a month to hear back from an AG. You can find any Attorney General by searching the state name and Attorney General. Some states will direct you to the real estate or consumer division. You should file a complaint with the state Real Estate Division against the agent if the agent was deceptive. Not all states require timeshare sales agents be real estate licensed.     

We have determined, based on reports from our readers, some Attorneys General walk lockstep with the developer, responding to complaints with, “You should not have relied on verbal representations.” Thus, in those states, the consumer is out in the cold and at the mercy of the developer’s decision. In other states, Attorneys General have opened investigations and reached settlements based on a volume of complaints and a pattern of consistent reports of deceptive behavior.

The FBI

Any complaint reported to the FBI should be of a more egregious nature. “They promised me a free cruise but it wasn’t free” is an example of a complaint that is not serious enough for the FBI. Our opening example, describing a buyer told they had to give up their timeshare deed when that was not necessary, would merit an IC3.gov report. To determine if your complaint is serious enough to file an FBI complaint, review the FBI definitions of criminal acts:  

White-collar crimes are characterized by deceit, concealment, or violation of trust and are not dependent on the application or threat of physical force or violence. The motivation behind these crimes is financial—to obtain or avoid losing money, property, or services or to secure a personal or business advantage. These are not victimless crimes. A single scam can destroy a company, devastate families by wiping out their life savings, or cost investors billions of dollars (or even all three).

Mortgage fraud is a subcategory of financial institution fraud known as “fraud for profit”:

Fraud for profit: Those who commit this type of mortgage fraud are often industry insiders using their specialized knowledge or authority to commit or facilitate the fraud. Current investigations and widespread reporting indicate a high percentage of mortgage fraud involves collusion by industry insiders, such as bank officers, appraisers, mortgage brokers, attorneys, loan originators, and other professionals engaged in the industry. Fraud for profit aims not to secure housing, but rather to misuse the mortgage lending process to steal cash and equity from lenders or homeowners. The FBI prioritizes fraud for profit cases.

https://www.fbi.gov/investigate/white-collar-crime

The FBI has advised our members, if the allegation involves credit card fraud, the member should also file a complaint with the Secret Service.

https://ask.metafilter.com/81136/Should-I-call-the-Secret-Service-over-credit-card-fraud

Most important, consider reaching out to local or national media. Reporters look for content and are surprisingly easy to reach. Write an article about your experience. The more people who come forward, the more the public is made aware of timeshare black holes before engaging in a timeshare sales presentation.

Summary of Regulatory and Law Enforcement Agencies

  • The Attorney General’s office where you signed your contract. Most AG complaints can be filed online.
  • The Real Estate Division of the state where the agent is licensed if your complaint is against the agent.
  • The FBI at IC3.gov portal if you feel you were deceived. For allegations of a serious nature you may also contact an FBI field office to file a tip orally. Have your facts and figures ready. The FBI complaint website is called IC3.gov which stands for Internet Crime. This is a bit confusing. IC is the name of the portal. That doesn’t mean it has to be an internet crime. Click IC3 as your choice when filing. Sometimes your local field office will pay closer attention than say Las Vegas, where losing money is a tourist attraction. You can find your nearest field office from this website. https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices https://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx
  • The Federal Trade Commission is one of the most important agencies to file with, because it is federal. Most states have incorporated a portion of the FTC’s “Unfair and Deceptive Trade Act” in their state law. It’s tricky to find the timeshare tab. Look for “next page” until you find it.   
  • The media – the court of public opinion is often the only court available. Inside Timeshare, published in Spain, welcomes member submissions, positive or negative.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau for credit card or lending complaints, under the mortgage option (even if no mortgage), selecting the bank involved. Timeshare has dodged this regulatory bullet because most members don’t know the identity of the lender as the timeshare company often services the loan (Timeshare companies are not an option from the CFPB’s drop-down menu). CFPB is the organization that helped Wells Fargo victims. The CFPB lost influence after the roll back of the Dodd Frank act March 2018. The Dodd Frank act was enacted after the abuses caused by subprime lending. The CFPB is still considered a regulator. https://www.consumerfinance.gov/
  • File a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. The company’s BBB rating can be misleading in that the BBB only rates how efficiently a company responds to complaints. Sometimes the BBB allows you to log in and file a rebuttal. If you file a complaint, a review is not allowed. We have received complaints from members reporting that a company representative called, saying the message is time sensitive, but does not answer the phone when the member repeatedly tries to call back. We suspect this boosts the company BBB rating because the company can report, “We reached out.”
  • Lawmakers – The problem is the timeshare buyer typically does not buy in their state of residence which is why lawmakers don’t seem to take timeshare seriously. Still, any effort to contact lawmakers is encouraged.
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission for selling timeshare points as an investment without being registered as a security.
  • AARP Fraud Watch

If this sounds like work, it is, but you can file with some, all, or none of the agencies. If you pick two, pick the Attorney General and the FTC. We have a team of advocates who can answer questions and help guide you through the process. We feel “Action and Advocacy” is the best way to change questionable timeshare business practices. Many families contacting us are financially devastated by their decision to buy a timeshare. We seek to promote consumer awareness.   

Depending on the seriousness of your complaint, you may forward your complaint to the firm’s public relations office or firm and to ARDA, the timeshare industry’s PAC, for violating ARDA’s Code of Ethics. ARDA’s Code of Ethics can be found on ARDA’s website. ARDA ROC does not mediate disputes, but ARDA does have a Code of Ethics. Due to lack of response to over 200 of the more serious complaints we forwarded to ARDA, we do not recommend owners make the voluntary “opt in” or “opt out” ARDA ROC donation on your maintenance fee invoice. Not one of the members we questioned knew what ARDA ROC stands for, yet collectively members gives ARDA ROC about $5 million a year. It is the opinion of our advocates, that although ARDA lobbies for the industry and for timeshare members, when the issue at stake is one that is at odds with members, members lose because they have no voice.

You may also forward your complaint to the Association of Vacation Owners.

https://avoworldwide.com/news/

AVO has been tracking our complaints for research purposes. http://insidetimeshare.com/the-tuesday-slot-with-irene-3/

If you are granted a positive outcome, you may not say or write anything disparaging about the resort, but there is no harm in staying involved by referring timeshare members who need help to Inside Timeshare or to one of the self-help groups listed below we know are not industry influenced.  

Who We Are and Why We Do This

Our advocates are not attorneys and we do not provide legal advice. We have researched regulatory agencies and are here to direct consumers to the appropriate regulatory and law enforcement agencies. The right to file a regulatory complaint is the right of every citizen who feels they have been wronged.  

It’s a good idea to contact a member of the Licensed Timeshare Resale Broker Association to find out whether your timeshare has a secondary market. http://www.licensedtimeshareresalebrokers.org/

Venting on complaint sites has no effect whatsoever but an organized campaign to track complaints and report alleged fraud has already born fruit in the form of Attorneys General investigations and greater public awareness.

If all else fails, we will refer to an attorney if the member can afford one. If you are forced into foreclosure, but have an otherwise unblemished credit report, you can write to the credit reporting agencies in an effort to explain why you were deceived and why you were not able to resolve your dispute.

Contact Inside Timeshare or email Irene Parker at [email protected] or call 270-303-7572 EST if you are interested in becoming a volunteer. Feel free to call any day of the week from 1:00 to 5:00 PM EST. It’s best to schedule a call. All calls and emails are returned within 24/48 hours.  If your email is not returned, please resend and send a text message.

 Self-help groups seek to provide members a way to proactively address membership concerns; to advocate for timeshare reform; to obtain greater disclosure from the company; to advocate for a viable secondary market; and to educate prospective buyers. We hope to promote a better relationship between disgruntled timeshare buyers and their respective resort. We appreciate all timeshare companies who have responded to article drafts and resolved customer issues. Inside Timeshare would always rather see a dispute resolved over publishing an article.

https://www.facebook.com/timeshareadvocategroup/

https://tug2.com/Home.aspx

https://everythingabouttimeshares.com/consider-exchange-options/

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

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

https://www.facebook.com/groups/465692163568779/

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

October 23, 2018 Irene Parker

Timeshare Advocacy Group     

Related article: FTC Section 5

http://insidetimeshare.com/fridays-letter-from-america-12/

If you have any timeshare problem or need help in checking if a company is genuine, contact Inside Timeshare with the details, we will point you in the right direction.

The Tuesday Slot

My Experience with a Timeshare and a Timeshare Exit Company

Another Veteran Foreclosed

September 11, 2018

Inside Timeshare has heard from 73 US veterans and active duty service members and law enforcement alleging unfair and deceptive timeshare business practices. Today is September 11, a day we remember the Twin Towers, a day that shook the world. Like George Yamada, our newest veteran contributor, first responders have suffered health effects as a result of their service for freedom.

Mr. Yamada explains today how he had invested over $100,000 in a timeshare, losing about $50,000, forced to default on the balance. As he illustrates, the amount of money lost to timeshare exit companies often pales in comparison to the amount lost buying a timeshare for the wrong reasons.

Inside Timeshare has received many complaints from members in the U.S. and the E. U. who feel they were scammed by an exit company promising their money back if they are not released from their timeshare, only to learn the promise fell short.  Not all exit companies are a scam, but we consider any company not living up to their money back guarantee, to be in violation of Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission code, “Unfair and Deceptive Trade practices.”

Read the guarantee you sign off on carefully, three words like “or in process” can made a big difference. The guarantee from the timeshare exit company’s website:

All Paid in Full Timeshare Cancellations are Guaranteed to be Transferred or In Process within ONE YEAR or Your Money Back!*

* All Paid in Full timeshares are guaranteed to be transferred or in process within the one year after you, the client, give us your file documents, or you will receive your money back.

Although George’s timeshare was not paid in full, he is adamant the company provided him this guarantee, even with his outstanding loan. Furthermore, the timeshare company issued George a notice of default. A default is not a transfer.  

By George Yamada

September 11, 2018

My wife Dawn and I are engaged in a battle we never expected. I am 71 years old, a Vietnam Army veteran, 70% disabled from Agent Orange. Veterans exposed to Agent Orange experience diabetes, kidney disease and other health risks. https://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange/conditions/index.asp

I administer pension plans. I can’t imagine any company in our portfolio treating their clients the way my wife and I have been treated.  

We purchased 41,500 Diamond US Collection points for over $100,000 as an investment. After learning the points are virtually worthless, I contacted a timeshare exit company December 2017 and paid them $6,000 to get out of the contract. The estimated turnaround time was expected to be four to six months. In April of 2018 I was told Diamond is overloaded with members wanting to get out of contracts, so it could take a year.

Summary of my purchases

In 2015 at Ka’anapali we bought a trial package for $1.93 per point.

In 2016 in Florida we purchased 6,500 points for $19,055 or $2.93 per points.

The third purchase was August 2017 by phone from Washington State. A lady called and said they could offer me a great deal. She said Diamond points are an investment for the future. They sold us on the discounted value compared to the current price. She said they could not offer the price we paid before because the price per point had gone up. Having bought at $1.93, this sounded like an excellent investment. We purchased 8,500 points for $28,560 or $3.36 per point.   

The fourth purchase was October 10, 2017. We met Juaquin B in Florida. Juaquin wrote $3.49 on a sheet of paper and then showed us the current price at $9 per point.  He would not give us the paper. He said that the points we had purchased had gone up so we could not purchase at the previous price. Juaquin told us this is the best investment we could buy because of Apollo. Apollo Global Management had acquired Diamond Resorts. As a pension administrator, I knew Apollo was a venture capital company. Juaquin said the more points we bought, the better our value. The sales presentation lasted six hours, and I am diabetic.

We purchased 20,000 points totaling 41,500 points for $58,000 or $2.90 per point.

Juaquin said our two prior loans would be consolidated so the new monthly payment would be $774. This didn’t happen. We ended up with payments of $500 a month plus $700 a month so over $1200 a month which is impossible for us.  

The maintenance fees for the points purchased Juaquin wrote down as $3,300, but since the loan was not consolidated, the maintenance fees were about $8,700. This was a sizeable percentage of our net income. After our expenses we were left with only $1400 per month for food and all other living expenses.

When I tried to contact Juaquin, he said he was extremely busy but would contact us. I called and texted him about 12 to 15 times with no response. When he finally contacted me, he told me to send my hotel and rental car bills to him and he would reimburse us. I have the email from when I sent him the bills. Juaquin had previously explained that I could use points just like money. He said my points are worth $3 per point. Juaquin said, “You could buy a gallon of milk with your points.” I never heard from him after forwarding him our bills.

Joaquin told us repeatedly we could sell Diamond points back to Diamond. When I called Joaquin to ask how to redeem points, he said he would walk me through the process, but would have to get back to me. I did not hear back, so I called Diamond financial services November 2017. I said I would sell points back to them for what I had paid. They said Diamond does not buy back points.  At my age, I would have never purchased $58,000 worth of additional vacation points if I knew there were so few buyers. We had only used the timeshare a couple of times. I disputed this transaction with my credit card companies. I had not qualified for their Barclaycard. Both cards gave us our money back.  

The company said in a press release that they promise transparency and accountability. They boast of a PROMISE that memorializes a series of operational procedures and enhancements in a single document. From their press release:

Transparency

  • We will provide clear, concise and consistent information at our presentations so that you can easily decide whether committing to vacation is the right decision for you and your family.
  • We seek to articulate the benefits of membership so you understand:
  • How to use your points for other travel arrangements, such as airfare, or (for our Platinum members only) how to apply them to maintenance fees.

It has now been well over a year since I signed with the timeshare exit company. I reached out to Inside Timeshare May of 2018. After explaining that I bought the points as an investment, I was advised to file a complaint with the Securities and Exchange Commission, because timeshare points are not a security and should not be sold as an investment.  Considering my background as a pension administrator, I should know if what had been described to me sounded like an investment.

I filed a complaint with the SEC June 3, 2018. Shortly after, I received a response from a SEC attorney. I contacted the timeshare exit company on July 18, 2018. The attorney I spoke with told me that they had received a Notice of Default-Revocation of Note dated June 13, 2018. It had been addressed to me but sent to the timeshare exit company. I asked the attorney why I had not been notified or sent a copy of the letter! He had no explanation. I asked for a refund or partial refund and of course the answer was no. I asked him why. He told me it was because Diamond could come back to them for any reason. Their guarantee was for a transfer, not a default!  

You don’t have to pay anyone to get defaulted!

EVENTUALLY, SOME LAWMAKER OR REGULATOR HAS TO WAKE UP TO THE HARM TIMESHARE IS DOING TO FAMLIES, SENIORS, and VETERANS.

Thank you to George Yamada for his service to America, for freedom and for sharing his experience. Contact Inside Timeshare if you have a timeshare experience to share. We publish all experiences, good or bad. The views expressed in member submitted articles are their description of their timeshare experience. The one true fact we know, is that the families contacting us often say that they are financially devastated by their decision to purchase a timeshare. Sold and bought for the right reasons, a timeshare can be of great benefit to a family.

Follow the link below for the article published in OpEdNews:

https://www.opednews.com/articles/Let-s-Honor-our-Veterans–by-Irene-Parker-Fraud-180908-59.html

 

The Tuesday Slot with Irene

Welcome to the Tuesday Slot, this week we have another “Nightmare on Timeshare Street”, involving another serving member of the armed forces, USAF First Sergeant John Kim, on his experience with Bluegreen. John is not the first serving member or veteran of the armed force or law enforcement that have been in contact with Inside Timeshare, all their stories are the same, with some likely to lose their security clearance and therefore their jobs. This “Nightmare on Timeshare Street” must end, not just for these people but also the elderly we have highlighted, but all consumers. The industry needs to get their act together and reign in the lies and untruths of their sales agents.

At the end of today’s article is a report and a link to the breaking news that Bluegreen have had their stock downgraded by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Apparently this is due to underperforming in the sales sector, well, what do they expect, the truth is getting out, new purchasers have heard the horror stories and are voting with their wallets. Yes folks, the timeshare industry really does need a severe shakeup or it will collapse!

We now issue another warning on a dubious company that has just come to light, cold calling timeshare owners: General Legal Associates, with the website https://generallegalassociates.com

Their contact details are:

Telephone:01274 792844

Address: 82 Horton Grange Road, Bradford, York’s, BD7 3AQ

According to Google streetview this address is a pharmacy

https://www.google.es/maps/place/82-84+Horton+Grange+Rd,+Bradford+BD7+3AQ,+UK/@53.7881897,-1.7782203,3a,16.9y,340.7h,87.81t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1shM_j9C-Rff7Vf9ZsHRKImQ!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!4m5!3m4!1s0x487be6c777f11505:0xf23dda2c0d4c8979!8m2!3d53.7881719!4d-1.7776776

Email on the web: [email protected]

The website shows very little information regarding timeshare, the about section is to say the least, looking a little far fetched. It was registered only in September 2017, yet some of the testimonials go back to February 2017?

According to the callers named as Lisa Reid and Emma Newton, a court case has already taken place against a bogus company the timeshare owner has had business with in the past (scammed). The court has awarded them a huge amount in compensation, even though the owner did not even know they had a case in court. As usual, to release this money a huge percentage needs to be paid by bank transfer to APS Bank in the name of Universal Consulting.

This is obviously another “scam”, there is no company with this name registered at company house, there are no court cases where consumers haven’t instigated the proceedings and the courts do not operate in the way this company suggests. So beware these type of calls, if in doubt contact Inside Timeshare for further information on any company that makes contact with such claims.

This company was first highlighted by Mindtimeshare.

Now on with our main article.

Why Military Lending Oversight should not be Weakened and why Timeshare Lending Practices can Pose a National Security Risk

Air Force First Sergeant John Kim’s Bluegreen Experience

August 21, 2018

The Trump administration is planning to suspend routine examinations of lenders for violations of the Military Lending Act, which was devised to protect military service members and their families from financial fraud, predatory loans and credit card gouging, according to internal agency documents.

New York Times, August 10, 2018

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/10/us/politics/mulvaney-military-lending.html

The already weakened Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has taken the next step towards becoming the Corporate Financial Protection Bureau. Volunteer staffed Timeshare Advocacy Group™ has heard from 535 timeshare members, of which 70 are veterans or active duty members of the military or law enforcement alleging timeshare fraud.

If an active duty member of the military falls for a deceptive timeshare sales presentation, the after effects can include the loss of his or her security clearance. This is due to a foreclosure being reported on their credit report. Sometimes this can also lead to the loss of a career. One Marine lost his security clearance and his air unit command due to a timeshare foreclosure. It is not uncommon for a timeshare foreclosure to involve amounts of $100,000 or more.   

Air Force First Sergeant John Kim made this YouTube hoping to warn others not to fall victim to high pressure same day timeshare sales and to encourage readers to become involved with others who face foreclosure.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=izC_RzfD788

According to the Federal Trade Commission’s 2017 fraud report, these figures include all travel scams,

Travel, vacation and timeshare fraud reported losing the highest individual loss amount and the report also stated the median fraud loss reported by members of the military were more than 44 percent higher than the general population, a median loss of $619 compared to $429 for the general population.

https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2018/03/ftc-releases-annual-summary-complaints-reported-consumers

Unfair and deceptive trade practices are defined by Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commissions Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Predatory and deceptive timeshare sales practices include:

  • High-pressure and aggressive sales,
  • Unaffordable loans, after being told it would be easy to refinance,
  • Unauthorized opening of credit card accounts,
  • Unauthorized credit card charges,
  • A perpetual contract,
  • Little or no secondary market

If a timeshare is sold properly, it is of great benefit to a family, but if the timeshare is grossly oversold in terms of being an investment, or being easy to sell, the decision to buy can spell financial disaster. Accompanied by annual maintenance fees and the lack of a secondary market, the buyer can find himself stuck with a timeshare they don’t want or can’t afford, facing foreclosure for the first time in their life. No one can guarantee a release from a timeshare contract. The foreclosure process is demoralizing and stressful. Scams abound, so do not pay anyone upfront money to get out of a timeshare without checking with Inside Timeshare or one of the self-help groups listed below.     

Air Force First Sergeant John Kim and his wife Glory, of South Carolina describe their battle with Bluegreen Vacations. John has joined TAG as a volunteer to advocate on behalf of other active duty service members, and to help guide disgruntled buyers through the regulatory filing process.   

“My wife Glory and I realized our mistake when we filed our 2017 taxes. We purchased about $60,000 worth of Bluegreen vacation points financed at 16.99%.  The first purchase was in April 2017 at The Fountains in Orlando, and the second purchase June, 2017. We had been told the June meeting would be an orientation meeting, but it was just an attempt to sell us more points.  We were told at both meetings we could go to our bank and refinance as you would any mortgage. We have learned banks don’t finance timeshares,” explained John. In addition, John reports being told,

  1. Bluegreen points are an investment, like a mortgage. It was emphasized that we were purchasing deeded property (which it is not), so an investment. We have learned Bluegreen vacation points are a right-to-use product, like joining a fitness club. Managers assured us we were making a sound “financial investment” and in years to come, we would be able to sell our portion of Bluegreen for a profit because we would have a deed to Bluegreen Vacations properties.
  2. We could deduct the interest from the loan on our taxes, as you could with any mortgage. This was not true.

Bluegreen previously reported nonpayment of timeshare loans as foreclosures, but no longer does so. Bluegreen and credit reporting agencies Equifax and Experian entered into a settlement in a class action lawsuit brought by the Finn Law Group on behalf of Bluegreen owners that resulted in 11,000 former Bluegreen members’ negative accounts being deleted from their credit reports.  Bluegreen, Equifax, and Experian also agreed not to report foreclosures in the future for Bluegreen members. Some timeshare companies do report a loan default as a foreclosure.

“We bought in Florida. I understand the Florida Timeshare Division, DBPR, will in all likelihood, echo Bluegreen’s defense with, ‘You need proof and verbal representations are hard to prove.’ With no real regulation, we want our voice heard. Don’t believe a word a timeshare sales agent says. I filed complaints with the Attorney General for the States of South Carolina and Florida, as well as the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau, the Fraud Officer of Orlando Florida Police Department, Department of Defense investigative services for the Air Force, Army, Navy and Coast Guard and the AARP Fraud Watch Organization. Nothing happened. Our message – buyer beware.”

If you, or anyone you know has a timeshare concern, contact Inside Timeshare or a self-help group.

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

https://www.facebook.com/groups/465692163568779/

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

Bluegreen Vacations Corp (NYSE: BXG) reported second-quarter earnings Aug. 2 that fell short of analyst expectations. Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Shaun Kelley downgraded Bluegreen Vacations from Buy to Underperform and decreased the price target from $26 to $19.

Total Q2 revenue of $195 million was beneath Kelley’s forecast of $208 million. Bluegreen reported 8-percent lower tours, while vacation ownership interest sales were up only 3.4 percent year-over-year when the analyst was expecting a 10.4-percent increase.

https://finance.yahoo.com/news/bluegreen-vacations-interrupted-sell-side-190725946.html

Once again a very hard hitting story, it is obvious to everyone, except that is the timeshare industry, that change is needed, no longer should sales agents get rich by telling lies to gain a sale. The companies that employ them should be held accountable, it is no longer acceptable for companies to use the phrase “WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR WHAT OUR SALES AGENTS SAY”, they are responsible, they are the employers, it is their product that these agents are selling!

If you have any comments or questions regarding this article or any other published, then use our contact page, Inside Timeshare welcomes your input.

Been contacted by a resale, cancelation or claims company, found one on the internet and you are not sure if they are genuine, then contact Inside Timeshare and we will point you in the right direction.

Start the Week: Diamond Lose in Tenerife; Latest news on Tauro Beach and Anfi.

Welcome to the start of another week with Inside Timeshare, today we report on two cases Diamond Resorts have lost in Tenerife, but first we look at the disturbing scenes at Tauro Beach over the weekend.

Over the past year Inside Timeshare has been reporting on the debacle that is the Anfi Tauro Beach Project, this has been an ongoing saga, with charges being brought against the former head of the coastal authority along with others and a full blown investigation by Seprona, the Guardia Civil Nature Protection Service.

It has been well reported that Anfi had plans to transform the old shingle beach into a man made one with sand, build a marina and also several hotels with a shopping complex on the land behind. It turns out that part of the investigation into the beach found the sand had been illegally imported from the Western Sahara. (see link to The Guardian Article).

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jul/28/trouble-in-paradise-the-canary-island-beach-accused-of-illegally-importing-sand

Now a company called Desokupa went in over the weekend and began demolishing the homes of those who live there. The reason is the land “belongs” to Anfi, who claim that these dwellings are illegal. Whether they are or not is not the point, considering that there are no planning permissions in place and the fact that the Anfi concession to run the beach is on hold while the Gran Canarian government apply to the courts to revoke the licenses. Should these demolitions have waited until the outcome?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BIHbrdIC_To&feature=share

Was there a court order which allowed Anfi to bring in the bulldozers?

All valid questions which will eventually be answered, but what we have lost is a little bit of old Gran Canaria and a very popular paradise spot, for locals and tourists alike. The bar Pio Pio is one of the most popular venues in the area at the weekend, with a wonderful atmosphere and great music. Is that now in danger!

https://www.eldiario.es/canariasahora/sociedad/Violento-derribo-chabolas-Tauro_2_794790515.html

Since publishing this following has appeared on facebook for Nueva Canarias

https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=10155352630021755&id=185892306754

It will take you to the link below, this is very disturbing news.

http://canarias-semanal.org/not/23270/un-comando-de-boxeadores-peninsulares-viaja-a-gran-canaria-para-derribar-chabolas-video-/

Now for the court cases against Diamond Resorts and a look at timeshare law compared to other places.

Both these cases were heard at the High Court No 3, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, both were appeals on behalf of the British clients. These cases were originally held at the Courts of First Instance and unfortunately the clients lost those cases. These were heard before the Supreme Court in Madrid issued the numerous rulings (now 126) on how the timeshare laws should be interpreted and applied.

Before these rulings, different courts and judges interpreted the laws differently, no one actually knew how the laws should be applied. This is nothing unusual in legal work, laws are put into place, but it is not until they are tested and challenged are they effective, this is what the Supreme Court has done, issued a definitive interpretation.

In the first case, the client has been awarded over 19,000€ plus legal interest, with the contract being declared null and void.

In the second case held at the same court, over 30,000€ has been awarded plus legal interest, again the contract being declared null and void.

The court found several infringements of Spanish Timeshare Law 42/98, (along with other relevant Consumer Laws), with contracts being over 50 years in duration and the illegal taking of payments within the cooling off period. The court also found as per the rulings from Spain’s Highest Court that the contracts lacked any substance or tangible product as they were points based. These have been declared illegal in Spain. (See PDF’s below for the court sentences).

HC n 3 Diamond 1

HC N3 Diamond 2

So how does Spain’s timeshare laws compare with elsewhere?

During the early days in Europe, timeshare was virtually unregulated, know one actually knew what it was, was it real estate, as that is how it was “sold” to the public, a share in your own holiday home, or was it purely a holiday product which was not an investment?

The free for all lasted some years, then the European Union issued the first of many Timeshare Directives, these were to try and regulate the industry, with the directives supposedly being put into the domestic laws of each member state. Basically all singing off the same hymn sheet!

In some countries, the directives were very much watered down, the industry trade body The RDO and the “representing” owners body TATOC, (now defunct), successfully lobbied the UK parliament and those laws are probably the weakest in Europe, they tend to be in favour of the industry not the consumer.

Spain on the other hand had a very different approach, which in some respects is not that surprising. Spain was one of the major places for timeshare development, they had just recently found freedom and democracy, with the country in dire need of development. The building of resorts and the tourist industry was one of the most important factors in this development.

The unfortunate thing is the free run timeshare developers had, timeshare was being sold even before the resorts were actually started, known as off plan. Many consumers got stung in these enterprises, with the resort they paid for never even getting built.

People on holiday were being picked up off the street left right and center, taken to sales presentations and coerced into parting with huge sums of money. Spain’s reputation as a great holiday destination was being sullied by these practices.

That all changed in December 1998, when the government introduced Law 42/98, based on the EU Timeshare Directives, but stronger. Spain was going to have the strongest laws in Europe and this was going to hurt the industry if they didn’t comply.

The law became effective on 5 January 1999, although they did allow a period where the timeshare companies could get their house in order and comply. One aspect of the law was regarding the duration of the contract, before, these were sold in perpetuity, there was no end date. The law now demanded that contracts be for a duration of a minimum 3 years and maximum of 50 years. Timeshare companies were allowed to place a deed of adaptation to all contracts sold before the law came into place, this allowed the pre 99 perpetuity contracts to remain, but all new sales must conform.

Many ignored this, on advice from their lawyers many continued to sell perpetuity, citing the deed of adaptation as the basis for carrying on. This obviously was one point that needed to be tested in the Supreme Court, but that would be many years ahead.

As a point of interest, there were two countries where timeshare laws only allowed for a maximum of 30 years on contracts, they are Madeira and Malta. Those had been put into place right at the start of timeshare development.

Another aspect of the law which Spain has put into place is the illegality of the Floating Weeks and Points systems. According the the Supreme Court they have ruled the timeshare law clearly states that any contract must have substance and tangibility, in other words the guarantee of the apartment and the week being sold. Floating weeks and points do not do this, you only have a right to use subject to availability.

So how does this compare with our friends experience across the Great Lake in the US?

Well from the many articles we have published on Inside Timeshare, they are sadly lacking any control or real consumer protection, it is pot luck which State you have purchased as to what protection you have. There appear to be no Federal Laws governing the sale of timeshare.

In Europe we have the 14 day cooling off period, where no payments should be taken and the consumer has the right to cancel, in some States we have been informed this can be as little as 3 days!

From what we have published, there are so many different agencies and authorities for the consumer to turn to, from Attorneys General (that depends on which State you are in) to the Federal Trade Commission and the FBI. (See link below on filing a complaint).

http://insidetimeshare.com/the-teusday-slot-with-irene/

We are seeing many complaints coming into Inside Timeshare on the practises of sales agents, which the timeshare companies seem to condone. There needs to be regulations to govern what is acceptable and what is not, these should be right across the board so that no matter which State you purchase in, the rules are the same for all.

Canada is preparing new legislation on the regulation of timeshare, we hope to bring you news of this from our Canadian readers in the near future.

South Africa is also pushing for changes, there have been several high profile cases against the timeshare industry, resulting in jail time and massive fines. It will not be long before they also have some of the strongest laws regulating timeshare in the world.

In Australia, there is also a move to regulate the timeshare industry, we have published in the past a couple of articles on timeshare down under. Again we wait for our Antipedian friends to submit their articles.

There is nothing wrong with the concept of timeshare, it may not suit everybody, after all we are all different, but it is how it is sold and administered that is the problem. For too long the industry has and in many cases, the US in particular, still carries on as though they are untouchable.

Diamond believed this in Spain, these cases highlighted today and those in the past along with the many more waiting to be heard, are letting them know that they are not above the law and will be curbed and brought to justice. Consumer protection is paramount in any industry, after all it is the consumer’s money that keeps any company afloat!

If you have any comments on this or any other article, then use our contact page, Inside Timeshare welcomes them.

Are you being contacted by different companies offering claims or relinquishments? If so and you are not sure if they are genuine and will do what they say, then contact Inside Timeshare, we will help you look for the information and point you in the right direction.

Tomorrow we publish an article by a new contributor, Diane Creager and titled Elder Advocates, so join us tomorrow and welcome Diane.

The Tuesday Slot with Irene

Welcome to this week’s Tuesday Slot, this week Irene Parker looks at the 2nd quarter of the year from The Timeshare Advocacy Group™, it clearly shows how this group has grown. This group is clearly making the industry very jittery, but as we have said before, “they only have themselves to blame”.

In tomorrows article we will be having a quick look at the latest news from the courts in Spain, there have certainly been some incredible results this week. So rather than give them here they deserve an article to themselves.

Now on with the Tuesday Slot.

The Timeshare Advocacy Group™

2nd Quarter Report

By Irene Parker

July 10, 2018

Timeshare Advocacy Group™  assisted 483 timeshare families as of June 30, 2018. TAG took root February of 2017. About a half dozen of us started a clearing house of information and as Inside Timeshare gained readership, more and more timeshare members reached out to us for assistance and advice. One of our Facebooks that began with 30 members February 2017 now proudly posts comments from 1570 members from 30 countries!

TAG received a total of 267 requests for assistance for all of 2017. Just through the first half of 2018, TAG received 228 requests from timeshare members, so we approached double the volume of complaints, just in the first six months of 2018.  Timeshare members seek straight answers which our advocates provide free of charge from Australia to England and between.

All but a handful of our 483 families reported back to us that their complaint was dismissed with, “You signed a contract” or “We’re not responsible for what our sales agents say.” If this is the official position at some timeshare companies, we feel the consumer should be aware of this in order to make an informed decision as to whether a timeshare is right for you or your family.

Not one of the 483 families that reached out to us was aware that there is little to no secondary market for many timeshares. We encourage timeshare buyers to contact a member of the Licensed Timeshare Resale Broker Association before buying any timeshare. Licensed timeshare resale brokers, charging nothing to list a timeshare, work in all timeshares and can cover the spectrum of available choices helping you decide whether it is best to buy on the secondary market or direct from the timeshare developer. There are pros and cons for both. http://www.licensedtimeshareresalebrokers.org/

About half of the members reaching out to us are battling serious medical issues or hit one of life’s road bumps that made the timeshare unusable or unaffordable. Many are saddled with high interest rate loans and some with higher interest rate credit cards. Unlike your personal residence, it is difficult to get rid of a timeshare that has an outstanding loan. We have been contacted by senior after senior, facing foreclosure for the first time in their life, because of defaulting on a timeshare loan. Almost all have high credit scores and have rarely been late paying a bill. The foreclosure process can be devastating.  Just knowing you are not alone can be a comfort. This is a difficult process for the young as well.

Our Military Team leader, John Collick, experienced his complaint dismissed with “We are not responsible for what our sales agents say,” As described in John’s Inside Timeshare’s July 3 article. John said he was told the timeshare he had owned for years was being acquired by the company he booked a stay with, told he needed to buy timeshare points from that company as the points would cost much more after his resort was acquired. According to John, this information was false.

“We’re not responsible for what our sales agents say,” seems somewhat of an admission that Section 5 of the FTC code has been violated. According to the Federal Trade Commission Section 5:

An act or practice is deceptive where

  • a representation, omission, or practice misleads or is likely to mislead the consumer;
  • a consumer’s interpretation of the representation, omission, or practice is considered reasonable under the circumstances;
  • and the misleading representation, omission, or practice is material.

https://www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocs/supmanual/cch/ftca.pdf

Our standard disclaimer is that we know there are millions who use their timeshares with no complaints. We are encouraged by some timeshare developers who seem sincerely interested in improving timeshare sales practices.

We are proud to have grown to 44 advocates, professionals bringing their skills and life experiences to the table to advocate on behalf of timeshare members seeking to address concerns about their membership. We have established seven teams. Although all our advocates are dedicated, it is understandable that once a dispute has been resolved, enthusiasm diminishes, especially if the member was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. Over the past year, more core advocates have volunteered to stay with us for the long haul, as we continue to organize and improve operations. If you signed an NDA, it does not prevent you from joining our legislative outreach team, for example.   

Leading our efforts:

  • Reporting Team, functions as a quality circle management team     
  • Media Team Leader – Richard Sokolowski, real estate agent, Arizona
  • Military Team Leader, John Collick, First Sergeant, USMC (Retired)
  • Legislative Team Leader, Sheilah Brust, retired from the New York Governor’s Office of Employee Relations
  • Scam Research: Deniece Vargas, California
  • Technology Support (Open due to Team Leader signing an NDA)
  • Foreclosure Support, Scotty Black, M.S. Criminal Justice

Probably the most common comment we at Inside Timeshare hear is, “At least I know I am not alone.” Proactive action, working with a volunteer towards timeshare resolution, relinquishment, refund, or even foreclosure, takes the problem from the unknown to the known.

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.

Consultants and behind-the-scenes advocates add an additional layer of advice and protection. One very important consideration is that many of those we have helped were on their way to the upfront “guaranteed to get you out of your timeshare” firms that sometimes prey on those already victimized. Not all are bad, but scams abound.  From this perspective, the developer, the timeshare lobby, and TAG advocates are on the same side. This 15 page Department of Justice report listing timeshare fraud, jail terms and fines, says it all:

https://search.justice.gov/search?query=timeshare+fraud&op=Search&affiliate=justice

Thank you to all our Contributors and upcoming new Contributors. Contact Inside Timeshare if you, or someone you know, needs assistance or would like to share their timeshare story for the benefit of others.

“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens” Jimi Hendrix

https://www.facebook.com/timeshareadvocategroup/

So that’s it for today, all it leaves us to say now is if you have been contacted by any company or found one on the internet and want to know if they are genuine and can be trusted to what they claim. Contact Inside Timeshare and we will point you in the right direction.

Friday’s Letter from America

Welcome to this week’s Letter from America, today Sheila Brust gives us an update to her previous article “Pencil Pitch”, again edited by Irene Parker.

It would seem that Darth Vader has sent in his Imperial Stormtroopers and Inside Timeshare is under attack from the dark side, no problem, the force of the good is with us. Keep your stories coming, the truth will always prevail!

Now on with this week’s Letter from America

An Update to Sheilah Brust’s Pencil Pitch

The Florida Timeshare Division told us,

“You have no Proof” and we were not allowed a rebuttal

Why is this not proof?

July 6, 2018

Introduction by Irene Parker

Many potential timeshare buyers have watched timeshare sales agents scribble timeshare promises on a piece of paper. Buyers are not allowed to keep a copy of the “Pencil Pitch” but Sheilah Brust managed to walk out with hers.

Sheilah listened to her pencil pitch in Daytona presented by Diamond sales agent Brad Leslie. She filed a complaint with Florida’s Department of Business Practice and Regulation (DBPR) and was told the following,

As you are aware, alleged verbal misrepresentations are very difficult to prove in light of the written documents and disclosures.  In terms of evidence we rely on these documents to prove or disprove the allegations. The actions taken by other state agencies are not evidence of the alleged misrepresentations related to the sales transactions conducted in Florida.  Based on our review, it did not appear that the information provided to you by the sales agents were false and misleading. Lack of clarity could be an issue but that in itself cannot be considered a violation. We are not surely, if the sales agent had voluntarily provided the hand-written notes or you had kept them on your own.  If there are discrepancies between the notes and what was actually received in terms of points, we will address that issue.

By Sheilah Brust

My husband Thomas and I have been Diamond timeshare members since Diamond acquired our resort. Our original timeshare was purchased in 1994. Things were fine until we fell for the Pencil Pitch.   

On February, 4, 2017, we attended an update meeting at Diamond’s Daytona resort The Cove. We wanted to attend the update because Diamond had been sold to Apollo Global Management. We are Platinum Diamond members so already had more points than we needed, but wanted to hear about the changes.

Diamond sales agent Brad Leslie said that he had just returned from training in Orlando and had learned about a new program that would allow us double point usage. We patiently followed Brad’s presentation. He wrote the numbers upside down. I remarked at how he could he do that. He said practice.

We feel Diamond must not understand the Pencil Pitch or they would cancel this purchase. I have learned Diamond retained the law firm Duane Morris to write a letter implying our article was defamatory. I have submitted this article as our rebuttal. We understand the figures we were presented. We were not confused. I have an accounting background. I wrote down everything Brad Leslie said.

Here’s the pitch. We hope you post a comment expressing your interpretation.  

The actual Pencil Pitch is three pages long. Page 2 of the Pencil Pitch is based on 15,000 additional points instead of 25,000 points pictured above because we said no to 25,000 points. The numbers below reflect 65,000 points instead of 75,000.  For those not familiar with the point system, a Diamond timeshare points sells for around $4 a point.

Timeshare members incur annual maintenance fees. For Platinum members the annual maintenance fee is $.15 per point, or $8,631 for the 50,000 points we owned before the purchase of 15,000 additional points.

From the original illustration above, to offset maintenance fees, on the right side of sheet, Brad said and wrote:

  • Own 75,000 points
  • Ability to get (Double Usage) 150,000 points – 50,000 points is what would be left for travel
  • 100,000 points would be available for point redemption @ 10 per point through a Travel Reimbursement program. Brad told us to book hotels, etc., and then cancel the reservations. We would receive a reimbursement check back for $10,000. The 50,000 points tendered would not be credited back. Brad said we would be reimbursed via check in about 30 days or 72 hours if via a reloadable debit Visa card. Without the double points, this program is of no value. If we used all our 50,000 points for redemption at $.10 a point, we would receive a reimbursement check for $5,000 that would only pay $5,000 towards a $8,631 maintenance fee bill with no points left for travel.

Brad said we could use the reimbursement check to pay maintenance fees but he said he could not tell us that. He said, “It’s your money!”

Brad said we paid $8,631 in maintenance fees for 50,000 points in 2017.  Following Brad’s logic, we could eliminate $8,000 of the increased $11,252 maintenance fee (due to the purchase of 15,000 additional points), by taking advantage of this new program.

65,000 own                 $8,631 current maintenance fees before 15,000

65,000 given              2,621 maintenance fees on the new 15,000

130,000 points            $11,252 Total maintenance fees with new 15,000

50,000 if used            8,000 Less reimbursement check

80,000 left                 $3,252 Maintenance fees still owed       

x $.10 reimbursed     EXCEPT THERE WAS NO 65,000 POINTS GIVEN!

$8,000

Brad said Diamond was working on a new member page for the new program that would have a split screen and that we would be able to see our newly acquired 15,000 points in the background. He said the 65,000 points “given” (Brad’s word) would also appear on a “split screen” on our member account page.

When I asked about the maintenance fees on the new 15,000 points, Brad said, “If you don’t use them you don’t pay maintenance fees on them. They will be kept in the background. If you want to use them then you will pay maintenance fees.”

I specifically asked Brad, “So if I had all 130,000 points reimbursed, they could all be redeemed for a check? Brad said, “Yes.”

I asked Brad why this program was developed. He said Diamond wanted to make sure we STAYED VACATIONED.     

We met with Brad again in May 2017. Brad said the program had changed. Brad said Diamond was getting rid of the debit cards because there were problems. He said DRI was working on the split screen. He said now we would need to generate the reimbursement checks by participating in the Travel Reimbursement program. I was familiar with this program and had used it before. This was a benefit we already had as Platinum members, but only beneficial if we were to lose points. We feel Brad adulterated the Travel Reimbursement program, incorporating it into his February Pencil Pitch.  

Brad’s reply to our complaint submitted to the Florida DBPR was that 15,000 points in the background was for a Dream Vacation. He said I was confused! Dream vacation points were not in any background account. They were added to our account February 17, 2017 so these could not have been the points in question. Brad sent us a $2,621 check to reimburse us the maintenance fees on the newly purchased 15,000 points. If it wasn’t for the NEW 15,000 points, we never would have gotten a $2,621 reimbursement check for the maintenance fees. Diamond representative Brandi said sales agents are allowed to reimburse members for their first year’s maintenance fees. Dream Vacation points don’t have maintenance fees.

Of course Brad was selling a double point program. He wrote down 130,000 and called the 65,000 points “given” points. I had told him that this program better be right because we are retired and living on fixed incomes and that we had NO extra money if he was not telling us the truth.  His answer was that he hoped to rebuild our trust in Diamond. We had told him we had been duped previously, told we had to buy 4000 points to prevent our heirs from being stuck with Diamond points.

Diamond’s response to us was that the information as presented was confusing, but not illegal. This is the CLARITY promise Diamond launched in response to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s issuance of an Assurance of Discontinuance.  

The CLARITY Promise: With this clear, concise and consistent information, consumers can easily determine whether the Diamond Resorts hospitality experience is the right decision for them and their families.

https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20170123005839/en/Diamond-Resorts-Launches-New-National-Customer-Service

Diamond’s Response:

On April 5, 2018, we received a call from a DRI Hospitality agent. She said our complaint had been escalated to the legal team and they found no wrongdoing. This is part of what she said to us.

I definitely agree that your confusion of that process is warranted. I have spoken to our legal team and sales team and we agree the double point explanation is definitely something that could have been misconstrued or seen as confusing by members or purchasers.

We have made changes to the way that information is given at the time of sale but we have to say the stance we take on this is: because there may have been some confusion on how you may use those points to create a savings for yourself doesn’t make the explanation illegal.

Summary

As a result of this upsell and lack of clarity, we have less time to travel because we have to work to pay for the additional points that increased maintenance fees to $11,252. We have a loan with Diamond for $31,000 and $26,000 Barclay Card balance.

Brad charged on two Barclay Cards $14,000 in my name and $12,000 in Thomas’ name. He had us fill out a credit card application to see if we qualified for the new program. He returned and said, “Barclays loves you! You got $26,000 credit!” I was livid after I learned we had been charged these amounts. We could have used a different credit card that would have gotten us rewards points.  

This whole deal was based on having 130,000 points using points at $.10 a point for a Travel Advantage reimbursement service taking advantage of 65,000 bonus points. You can book a lot of vacations with 50,000 points that would vastly exceed a measly reimbursement check for $5,000. You can stay a week for roughly 2500 to 5000 points. At an estimated 4000 points per week, about 12 weeks.       

What CLARITY?

According to the Federal Trade Commission Section 5

An act or practice is deceptive where

  • a representation, omission, or practice misleads or is likely to mislead the consumer;
  • a consumer’s interpretation of the representation, omission, or practice is considered reasonable under the circumstances; and
  • the misleading representation, omission, or practice is material.

https://www.federalreserve.gov/boarddocs/supmanual/cch/ftca.pdf

From the Arizona Attorney General’s Assurance of Discontinuance:

IV Assurances

“Diamond shall enhance its programs, policies and training and continue to instruct and train its Vacation Counselors and Sales Managers to comply with the ACFA (Arizona Consumer Fraud Act). Diamond shall advise all Vacation Counselors and Sales Managers that they may not:

 

  1. Sales agents should not deviate from sales material
  2. Sales agents should not make oral representations at the point of sale inconsistent with the Purchase document.

 

 

https://www.azag.gov/press-release/attorney-general-brnovich-announces-800000-settlement-diamond-resorts

http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/business/aroundregion/story/2018/jun/17/whconsider-when-buying-time-share-vacatispot/472994/

Contact Inside Timeshare or one of these self-help groups if you need help with a timeshare concern or would like to share your experience.   

https://www.facebook.com/timeshareadvocategroup/

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

https://tug2.com/Home.aspx

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

https://www.facebook.com/groups/465692163568779/

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

Thank you Sheila for your candid story, it just amazes us that this type of sales practice still goes on, yet the companies involved deny all responsibility for their sales agents actions. In Europe timeshare is very much on the decline, partly due to the antics in the past of unscrupulous sales reps, not all I hasten to add, I do know many who abhor the deceitful practices and are genuine in their approach to selling the product. They believe that telling the truth sells the product.

We have said this on many occasions, timeshare was and could be a good product, it may not suit everyone but sold properly and truthfully will only strengthen it and give it a future.

So we say to all timeshare companies, get your house in order, reign in your sales agents / reps, stop these types of sleazy sales presentations, take control or you will lose a product that could work.

News has just come in from Canarian Legal Alliance of this weeks court cases, on the receiving end are Anfi in Gran Canaria once known as the flagship of timeshare resorts in Europe and Silverpoint in Tenerife.

The Court of First Instance in Maspalomas, Gran Canaria, has had NINE sentences passed against them this week. The clients will receive back all their money and have had their contracts declared null and void.

In Tenerife, Silverpoint, who are well known on these pages has lost another case in the Court of First Instance in Arona. Again the court ordered the return of all money and the contract declared null and void.

In total these 10 cases will cost these timeshare resorts over 325,112€ plus legal interest and in most cases the return of the client’s initial legal fees.

So the week ends with another “Black Cloud” hanging over the timeshare industry. Will they ever learn?

Inside Timeshare welcomes your comments and stories, if you would like to share these with the rest of the timeshare world, then use our contact page and get in touch.

So that is all for this week, join us on Monday for more news and views of the timeshare world, have a great, enjoyable and safe weekend.

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