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Friday’s Letter from America

Welcome to another Letter from America, this week we welcome another new contributor Diane Smith with an introduction by our very own Irene Parker. This article looks at Bluegreen and their suggestion that Diane donates her points to one of four selected charities. Have we not heard of a scheme like this before?

Bluegreen offers new Pilot Program to Donate Points to Charities 

Diane Smith Responds to “Who’s the Fish?”

Bass Pro Lawsuit v Bluegreen

https://insidetimeshare.com/the-tuesday-slot-38/

July 10, 2019

By Diane Smith

Introductory comments by Irene Parker

I was alarmed when Diane reported that Bluegreen suggested she donate her 5,000 points to one of four select charities. Charities don’t need the liability of a perpetual contract and ongoing maintenance fees. After learning one of the charities was founded by the co-founder of RCI, and other timeshare executives are members of the 18 member Board of Directors, I reached out to industry insiders, puzzled.  

Christel DeHaan, Founder and Chairman of the Board

Co-Founded and sold RCI for $825 million

https://www.forbes.com/profile/christel-dehaan/?fbclid=IwAR3Qn-QE_uDsHYPVo0b9yuh3qb4Y4opDRT7zAiC0wk97D_n0H19_bD7re7k#6d7903079fd0

https://christelhouse.org/our-people/

Olivier Chavy, President, RCI Exchanges

Gordon S. Gurnik Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, Hilton Grand Vacations

Don Harrill, Vice Chairman of Board of Directors, Orange Lake

According to an industry source, who wishes to remain anonymous, the charities will not be liable for maintenance fees or the perpetual contract. If Diane were to donate her 5,000 Bluegreen points, it would prompt a paper transaction known throughout the industry as a “Press and Clean” that will ultimately transfer the points back to Bluegreen. While transferring timeshares is perfectly legal, legal point laundering does not solve the problem when timeshare buyers experience unfair and deceptive sales practices.  

If my source is correct, in this scheme, Bluegreen controls who gets referred to the charity, so you can’t just call up one of the charities and ask them to take your Bluegreen points. Bluegreen benefits because they are not as bothered by calls from people wanting to get rid of their points, as they can refer the member to the charities if there is no loan outstanding.

It is ironic Christel House works with those in poverty, considering Inside Timeshare has heard from 894 timeshare members and more than a few driven into poverty because of unfair and deceptive sales practices that are accompanied by rising maintenance fees and no secondary market.

So why is being allowed to donate timeshare points to a charity, not a good idea? When sold by deceit, the charity becomes a link in the progression described by one former sales agent as a hamster wheel: deceive, force insolvency, take-back, resell – with the charity brokering the points back to the timeshare company.

We hope this isn’t the timeshare lobby ARDA’s idea of a Responsible Exit.

ARDA’s Coalition for Responsible Exit

https://responsibleexit.com/

Diane’s Response to “Who’s the Fish?”

I read Inside Timeshare’s article about the lawsuit filed on behalf of nearly 36 Bluegreen plaintiffs against Bass Pro Shops and Bluegreen with great interest after I received Bluegreen’s response to my complaint. My reports of deception are similar to identical to those listed in the lawsuit complaint.

My concerns were not even addressed. Instead, I received an email suggesting I donate our points to a charity. Given an attorney I contacted was going to charge me $5,000 to get us out of this financial trap, I questioned why a nonprofit would want to accept timeshares.  

Bluegreen responded to my complaint saying that they have no provision to take back a timeshare (even when deceived?), but I could contact one of four selected charities to donate our 5,000 points. The four select charities are listed below. While I applaud any assistance is to a charity, I don’t feel this is appropriate. 

Our family purchased our points in 2011 after we had endured the Joplin, Missouri EF5 tornado that killed approximately 160 people. My father broke his back and ribs, his home was destroyed, and we endured over $40,000 in damages to our home. Shortly after the tornado, we took a trip to Branson to get away for a breather. At Bass Pro Shops we were approached by a Bluegreen representative. The resulting consequences I would describe as a financial tornado.

In the lawsuit Bass Pro Shops filed against Bluegreen, they were concerned about commissions they had not been paid. Bass Pro Shops will be rewarded $40 million, but there is little concern as to the deception described by Plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed on behalf of Bluegreen members. In the lawsuit complaint, Bass Pro Shops mentioned aggressive sales practices that were offensive to their customers, but I’m sure the reason for the lawsuit was to sue for commissions. It’s all about the money with timeshares – our money.

We experienced the following:

  1. The meeting promised to last no more than an hour, lasted for hours,
  2. They explained how we would save money on vacations by buying points. In actuality, most of the places we attempted to book were either not available when we were able to use them, or we couldn’t book them at the time we wanted to book (not in the booking window). We have never been able to vacation anywhere using Bluegreen points but Branson, except for one Florida trip.
  3. We were told we were not buying a timeshare! They provided us with a “deed” explaining that we were purchasing real estate.
  4.  We were told we could sell Bluegreen points at any time and that points would appreciate in value like our home. There is no resale value as evidenced by their suggestion we donate points to a charity.
  5. A credit card was opened to make the purchase and we were advised to transfer the purchase price to a home equity loan.
  6. They explained the benefit of being able to transfer the points to our heirs. We now know what is passed down is a financial liability.

The few trips we did take were a disappointment due to high-pressure sales tactics that made us feel like we could not leave unless we purchased additional points. We have no desire to stay at another Branson property due to our last stay when we experienced soft spots on the bathroom floors, roaches, and the same furniture as 2011. The pool looked nasty, cloudy and full of algae. 

Bluegreen responded to our concerns as follows:

We are sorry to hear that you wish to cancel your ownership. Unfortunately, there are no provisions for you to cancel your contract at this time.

However, we would like to offer you the opportunity to participate in a pilot program we have developed to assist owners like you who have no outstanding loan but would like to separate from the Bluegreen Vacation Club. The program is outlined below:

1.     Donate your timeshare interest benefiting a charitable organization. Please see the attached document regarding worthy organizations.

2.     You will be provided with a donation letter from the charity based on the current third party comparable selling price. With respect to your ownership, this is estimated to be $745. Please note that this letter does not represent proper documentation to support a deduction on your tax return nor is it a substitution for any third-party valuation that may be required by the IRS. We recommend that you consult with a tax advisor regarding requirements for claiming non-cash charitable donations.

3.     You will have the option to utilize one-year’s allotment of (5,000) Vacation Points for up to two years (at no cost to you).

4.     You will be released from any future obligations to the Bluegreen Vacation Club.

Charitable Giving Program – Donation Options 

Junior Achievement of South Florida (JA)

SOS Children’s Villages – Florida is a foster care neighbourhood in Coconut Creek.

Christel House Some things should be handed down from one generation to the next. A life of poverty isn’t one of them.

JDRF is the leading global research organization accelerating medical breakthroughs to cure, prevent and treat Type 1 Diabetes (T1D).

I imagine waves of baby boomers, with children and grandchildren, have experienced the same. We will teach the next generations to avoid timeshares and travel clubs. The existence of unfair and deceptive timeshare sales practices is apparent. See the lawsuits and Attorneys General investigations below.  

Thank you to Diane for informing us of this remarkable timeshare development. Our readers are not just a disgruntled few:

The NY Attorney General investigation into the Manhattan Club resulted in a $6.5 million settlement. https://www.amny.com/real-estate/the-manhattan-club-settlement-includes-6-5-million-in-restitution-ag-says-1.14048559

Colorado Attorney General sued Highlands Resort, Sedona Pines and twelve other defendants for deceptive trade practices. https://businessden.com/2016/12/07/ag-sues-timeshare-firm-for-deceptive-tactics/

Missourians sometimes are targeted by real estate developers and resort communities to buy vacation timeshares. https://ago.mo.gov/civil-division/consumer/consumer-topics/vacation-timeshares

Arizona Attorney General received hundreds of complaints against Diamond Resorts, fined the company $800,000 and issued an Assurance of Discontinuance. https://azag.gov/press-release/attorney-general-brnovich-announces-800000-settlement-diamond-resorts

Tennessee Attorney General announced a $3 million settlement with Festiva, a network of vacation and timeshare companies, for alleged violations of the federal Telemarketing Act, federal Telemarketing Sales Rule, and the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. https://www.tn.gov/attorneygeneral/news/2016/2/24/pr16-04.html

Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen says his office received 58 timeshare complaints in 2018, including concerns about pressure sales tactics, exorbitant fees, and difficulty reselling. https://www.nbcconnecticut.com/news/local/Timeshare-Troubles–What-To-Do-Before-You-Buy-and-Sell-504017151.html

A Florida Whistleblower lawsuit filed on behalf of ten former Wyndham employees, including eight former sales agents. Plaintiffs allege that they objected to and refused to participate in illegal timeshare sales practices.  https://insidetimeshare.com/fridays-letter-from-america-42/

Former Wyndham sales agent Trish Williams, a jury awarded an initial $20 million. https://dolanlawfirm.com/2016/11/wyndham-timeshare-whistleblower-lawsuit/

Candace Czarny v Hyatt and Kent and Allison Drysdale – Former Hyatt timeshare sales allege that they were instructed to make certain false statements and omit certain facts when communicating to Hyatt owners and potential clientele in order to make more sales. https://insidetimeshare.com/fridays-letter-from-america-57/

Petition to Reform Timeshare:

https://www.change.org/p/state-legislators-in-arizona-florida-and-nevada-demand-reform-of-the-timeshare-industry-s-unfair-and-deceptive-practices

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/

Free at Last Facebook

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

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

https://www.udprep.info/june

Bluegreen Facebook

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

Wyndham Facebook

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

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

Diamond Resort Facebook

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

Gold Key Facebook

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

Inside Timeshare Facebook 

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

Thank you Diane and Irene, this certainly looks like one of those schemes which only benefits the timeshare company, if you have any views, comments or questions on this article please use our contact page and get in touch.

That is all for this week, we hope that you all have a great weekend and join us again next week.

The Tuesday Slot

Welcome to the Tuesday Slot, today in her article Irene Parker continues to address a very serious problem that of timeshare foreclosure, especially for seniors. Inside Timeshare has been highlighting this problem for some time and we will continue to do so.

Timeshare Foreclosure Explained to Lenders

When and Why Some Timeshare Buyers Have No Choice

The Heartbreak of Senior Timeshare Foreclosure

We had to do a reverse mortgage on our home as a result of these timeshare purchases because our social security income was too low to cover the total charged on both Barclay cards. A reverse mortgage was the only way we saw to deal with the financial distress.  My credit score was 817 the day we met with the timeshare sales agent but it has gone down considerably after that purchase.

A former Army Captain, Vietnam

By Irene Parker

December 18, 2018

Over the past year I have received calls from mortgage brokers calling on behalf of former timeshare members trying to buy a house, battling the decline in their credit score due to timeshare foreclosure. When I explain to the lender that consumers are often left with no choice but to foreclose, due to no secondary market and the contract perpetual, the call has always ended with the mortgage broker convinced.

Six grown children, alarmed and astonished at the deceit their parents described at the hands of timeshare sales agents, have connected to bring to light unfair and deceptive timeshare sales practices. Their parents are being driven, or were driven, into timeshare foreclosure. They possessed credit scores over 800 until they were up-sold into insolvency, now trying to understand how our country could leave senior after senior financially devastated. Two of the six families have previously published articles. On Friday we publish an article submitted by a third family, her parents financially and physically devastated because they believed a series of timeshare sales agents. We have received 20 complaints directed against their sales agent. He earned $2.4 million selling timeshare points in 2016 and $2.4 million in 2017. The complaints are similar or identical.

If you buy a house, car, or boat, and there is loan outstanding, you can still sell the asset. Timeshare companies themselves don’t want the timeshare back because, when no longer wanted or needed, a timeshare is a liability. What would happen to the primary housing market if we suddenly learned there was no secondary market? Damages suffered by senior timeshare members, often accumulating points over several purchases, are commonly $100,000 to $300,000 or more, easily the cost of a home. Often the  report of deceit happens at the last one or two purchases, because a level of trust developed over the years until they purchased for reasons that did not exist – programs that would relieve them of maintenance fees or allow them to sell points. Members reaching out to us all report that they were told at purchase the timeshare would be easy to sell, it is real estate, an investment.

When the buyer has experienced unfair and deceptive sales practices, the result exacerbates the financial disaster, as has been reported by many of the 626 families that have reached out to us angry, overwhelmed and desperate. Some have learned within 24 hours after the rescission period, what they bought was a far cry from what was described.   

Such deceptive practices are known within the industry as “pitching heat” and the answer to complaints are routinely dismissed with, “You signed a contract” or “We are not responsible for what our sales agents say.” In Nevada, all complaints we have received that were submitted to the Nevada Real Estate Division quickly received a “You have no proof” denial. In Florida, the response has been, “Verbal representations are hard to prove.”

Fine, but why not let the consumer know a timeshare sales agent can say anything to make a sale. Let the consumer know they can’t believe a word a timeshare sales agent says. That would at least be transparent. Florida is a two party state, so consumers are not even allowed to record. How is proof even possible?

At the end of this article I list several Attorneys General settlements and lawsuits supporting my claim that the finger needs to be pointed also in-house, instead of solely at timeshare exit companies. The timeshare developer created this timeshare exit scam nightmare. Timeshare companies list in their annual reports that a viable resale market is a risk to their (stock) investors. Not all exit companies are scams, but many are. An FTC report on exit and transfer scams:

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

I liken million dollar deceptive timeshare producers to a baseball player like Jose Canseco, breaking the performance enhancing drug rules to earn millions, while other teammates earn far less because they did not break the rules. Honest timeshare sales agents are harmed by the actions of the dishonest too.    

According to GustonCho Associates, “Many consumers purchased timeshares in the 2000’s when the real estate market was hot.”

  • After the 2008 Real Estate And Mortgage Meltdown bankruptcies and foreclosures soared to historical highs
  • Among foreclosures were consumers who purchased timeshares and could no longer liquidate the timeshares and had to go through timeshare foreclosures
  • I get many calls by home buyers who were told by banks and mortgage lenders that they do not qualify for a FHA Loan because they have a timeshare foreclosure
  • Timeshare owners were told that there are mandatory waiting period after timeshare foreclosure to qualify for a FHA Loan
  • This is not true and unfortunately, these loan officers who are telling home buyers that there is a waiting period after timeshare foreclosure to qualify for a FHA Loan do not know what they are talking about
  • There is no waiting period to qualify for a FHA Loan with a prior timeshare foreclosure
  • Timeshares are not considered real estate loans
  • Timeshare loans are considered consumer installment loans under HUD FHA Guidelines

Read more https://gustancho.com/fha-loan-with-timeshare-foreclosure

We have also received requests for help from the millennial generation. Seniors often tell me that at their age, they don’t care what happens to their credit score, but for the younger buyer, a timeshare foreclosure at a young age can also be financially devastating.

Not one member who has contacted Inside Timeshare realized their contract was perpetual or that there was little to no secondary market.    

The Foreclosure process is gruesome. There will be threatening calls and the hit on the credit score. Timeshare today is broken. When sales agents can lie and laugh about it, at the expense of the young and the old, financially devastated by their vacation plan, something is very wrong. Too many families have been financially harmed by an industry run amuck. Rising loan loss provisions are just a number on an annual report to Wall Street and the developers. To us, they are broken families.   

Lawmakers, heavily influenced by the industry, don’t seem to care because timeshare buyers don’t typically buy a timeshare in the state they live in. Attorneys General try to protect the public, but the settlements achieved so far have been mere speed bumps in extraordinary revenue streams.  

A few of the Attorneys General investigations and settlement and lawsuits:

New York Attorney General reaches $6.5 million Manhattan Club Settlement

https://nypost.com/2017/08/17/new-york-ag-reaches-6-5m-settlement-with-manhattan-club/

A jury awarded former Wyndham sales agent Trish Williams $20 million

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/25/business/my-soul-feels-taller-a-whistle-blowers-20-million-vindication.html

Attorneys General on the side of timeshare owners:

Colorado Attorney General Cynthia H. Coffman, as reported by Business Den reporter Amy DiPierro, concerning Highlands Resorts in Colorado and Sedona Pines in Arizona:

http://insidetimeshare.com/another-us-attorney-general-exposes-deceptive-tactics/

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery III settled with Festiva timeshare for $3 million:

https://www.tn.gov/attorneygeneral/news/38312

Alongside AGs, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau conducts an ongoing investigation of Westgate timeshare as reported by Matthew Zeitlin at BuzzFeed:

https://www.buzzfeed.com/matthewzeitlin/financial-regulators-are-looking-into-americas-largest-times?utm_term=.dwoQKVw3QQ#.doJ0ka1K00

Jefferson City, Mo. – Attorney General Chris Koster today announced that Welk Resort Sales, Inc., a California corporation that sells timeshares in Branson, has entered into an agreement to pay $18,000 in restitution to Missouri consumers who purchased timeshares from Welk.

https://themissouritimes.com/21184/release-attorney-general-koster-obtains-restitution-for-consumer-victims-of-timeshare-sales-company/

HARRISBURG – The Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection has reached a settlement with Florida – based BlueGreen Corporation that addresses complaints about the company’s alleged use of deceptive “contests,” misleading sales presentations and improper contracts in the marketing and sale of timeshare vacation packages in Pennsylvania.

http://www.pacast.com/press_releases/1272_OAG_BlueGreen_feed.pdf

Arizona AG issues an $800,000 fine and an Assurance of Discontinuance against Diamond Resorts

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

Bluegreen stock downgrade August 17, 2018

Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s Shaun Kelley downgraded Bluegreen Vacations from Buy to Underperform and decreased the price target from $26 to $19.

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

Self-help support groups we feel are not industry influenced:

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/

Where are you?

Thank you Irene, as usual you have highlighted very well a severe problem and explained it in a very simple manner. In this Friday’s Letter from America, another new contributor Brenda Santos, highlights the “Nightmare on Timeshare Street” of her elderly parents at the hands of an unscrupulous sales agent. We think this will make your blood boil, so join us for our last Letter from America this year.

The Tuesday Slot

Welcome to another Tuesday Slot, this week we have a new contributor, the Walency family with their own “Nightmare on Timeshare Street”, this time it is Hilton Grand Vacations that are in the frame. It is just amazing that even a company with a prestigious reputation as Hilton allows their sales agents to mislead and lie to prospective clients in order to line their own pockets. As we have said before, the timeshare product is not a bad concept, it is the behaviour and underhand tactics of sales agents with the complicity of their managers that are bringing the industry into disrepute. The CEO’s of these companies must take full responsibility for this, they are after all in charge!

Our Eternal Hilton Vacation Nightmare

By the Walency Family

November 27, 2018

This article was sent to Hilton for comment November 5. There was no response and at the time of publishing no response has been received.  

We don’t understand how a huge company like Hilton Grand Vacations can allow their sales agents to say anything at a timeshare presentation and then lay claim to the contents of our wallet from now until we die. We have unchecked corporations picking on small fish while lawmakers and big government agencies sit back watching the show and timeshare sales agents and executives rake in millions at our expense.  

Something is very wrong when a product, so often sold as an asset, forces buyers no choice but to foreclose if they don’t want it. If you buy a house, and you have an outstanding loan, you can still sell it. Timeshare buyers like me have no choice but to foreclose, due to the lack of a secondary market, ruining our credit, and I’m sure the credit of thousands.  Change will only happen through the cumulative voices of everyday people who have had their financial lives wrecked by this timeshare industry. We need to keep shouting until we can’t be ignored. If Hilton won’t listen, we hope others timeshare companies will.

Consumers need to think twice about buying any timeshare, as you can find yourself held financial hostage buying something that cannot be sold and is accompanied by rising maintenance fees.  The timeshare industry is leaving buyers with ruined credit scores and the anguish that goes along with foreclosure.

We received our closing documents well after the rescission date which prevented us from cancelling the contract.  We feel we experienced deceptive sales, but the difference in what we bought and what Hilton sales agent Bruce K sold us did not become apparent until long after the rescission period. We feel we experienced a bait and switch.

We purchased the Hilton Grand Vacations timeshare in New York City, New York, 2016 for $13,390. We no longer intend to pay for this contract. Bruce K misled us about the total cost of the timeshare. He did not mention property taxes, increased maintenance fees, or yearly assessments. We have had to pay $150 in yearly club dues, $335 for club inventory activation fee and $690.52 for annual assessment fees that he did not mention at the presentation.

We have been trying to communicate with Hilton since June 2018. To date, we have received only one letter with a copy of our contract and little else. In other words, they got us because we signed a contract, despite what the sales agent told us to get us to sign.

Bruce K told us he wasn’t a salesman, just there to help timeshare owners find buyers. Two lies in one. He was a salesman. Hilton does not have a resale department. We have tried to find his real estate license number, unsuccessfully, and wonder whether he was licensed to sell us the timeshare in the first place.

Bruce K told us it would be a good investment because it was real estate that this would be great to pass on to my daughters. He said it already had equity. This was the third lie as timeshares are a liability to be passed on to your kids.

He said we could book wherever we wanted, easily. We wanted to book Florida on the east coast. We were told it was not available, but could be booked through the next year or so.

In this day and age of easy online booking, we have to wait a year?

We asked for Cape Canaveral and Panama City Beach Resorts and Galveston, but ended up in Vegas as a last resort. We were never able to book with the ease that Bruce K told us we would be able to book.

What we were told:

  1. Bruce K said the Hilton timeshare was just like any other property where you can claim the interest paid on your taxes each year and it would pay for itself by renting it out and that he would help us do that. When I called to see if I could rent out my week, I was told Hilton does not allow renting the timeshare.
  2. Bruce K said there was a market to sell the timeshare if we needed to sell. We entered that market and were scammed the same way Hilton scammed us. Hilton Grand Vacations doesn’t have a buyback program.
  3. Bruce K stated several times how this would change the way we took vacations for the rest of our lives and how we could get reduced prices on airfare and ground travel in Europe and be able to book exotic vacations anywhere in the world. Booking vacations during our week is impossible because it was never available during week 31 of our agreement.

The New York and Texas Attorney Generals were useless and provided no help whatsoever, but I understand the New York Attorney General was able to help The Manhattan Club timeshare members get back $6.5 million. I found this on the internet:

https://ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-announces-65-million-settlement-midtown-manhattan-timeshare-scammed

So is their hope for the rest of us?

Self-help groups:

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 to the Walency family for their contribution, if you have had a similar experience with any timeshare company and would like to share this on our “Nightmare on Timeshare Street”, use our contact page and we will get back to you.