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Friday’s Letter from America

Welcome to another Letter from America, over the past few weeks we have been publishing various articles on Bills which may have a detrimental effect on timeshare consumers. This week Irene Parker shares how she sees the legislation being proposed.

A Legislative Scorecard – Nevada Florida and Arizona

How to Connect Lobby Dots

By Irene Parker

April 12, 2019

VOTE “OPPOSED” TO NEVADA SB 348 UNLESS THE BILL IS AMENDED TO OFFER TIMESHARE BUYERS (NOT JUST THOSE RETAINING EXIT SERVICES), 24 HOURS TO REVIEW A TIMESHARE CONTRACT.

Review means an offer to be able to review a contract 24 hours before signing.

This offer should not be buried in fine print. Timeshare buyers who wished to waive the requirement could do so.

Rescission Period means the 3 to 10 days a member has to review after signing.

Nevada has an easy method to comment on the legislation. Select SB 348 and oppose the bill unless amended to allow a timeshare buyer 24 hours to review a contract:

https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/Opinions/80th2019/

Why would the American Resort Development Association (ARDA), an industry-supported PAC, and ARDA ROC, (Resort Owners Coalition), be so opposed to offering timeshare buyers 24 hours to think about their decision to sign a perpetual contract with little to no secondary market?

A recent complaint received by Inside Timeshare:

The timeshare member is single, over 70 years old. From 2015 to 2018 the member was ping-ponged back and forth seven timeshare times told, “You should not have bought Hawaii points,” and then “You should not have bought US Mainland points,” until up-sold into insolvency. The member has lost their entire retirement savings that were worth almost $400,000. The member also suffered tax consequences due to liquidating a retirement asset.

The timeshare member identified six timeshare sales agents, of which five are repeat offenders, names well known to Inside Timeshare. The sixth is an up-and-comer who up-sold the senior in Hawaii at a prior update. On a subsequent visit to Hawaii, a family member accompanied the senior to a March 2019 “mandatory” meeting. The sales agent informed the senior that there is going to be a huge Special Assessment in the US program so the member needed to switch back to Hawaii from the US program for the eighth time in four years. If agreed to, this would have cost the senior over $60,000, pushing the loss to more than $400,000. The sales agent also told the family member and the timeshare member that he has a broker they could retain to rent and get money back and at some point in time, the points could be sold back. They added that purchasing these additional points would also allow the member to use points to pay maintenance fees.

I am 100% confident the timeshare company will tell the member that they signed a contract. They will file a complaint with the Nevada Real Estate Division (NRED). NRED will provide the senior with a “You have no proof” letter.

ARDA lobbyist Don Isaacson has been quoted, “The state should not be concerned with those who did not bother to understand the product.”

I wish the member’s story was unusual. At the Florida legislative workshop and at the Arizona hearing, lawmakers themselves reported how they had experienced unfair and deceptive timeshare sales practices.

An overlooked Nevada bill:  

Nevada Assembly Bill 438: Vacation and Timeshare Plans

https://www.leg.state.nv.us/App/NELIS/REL/80th2019/Bill/6835/Text

An OPC is a bird dog, if you will, hanging out at strategic locations, offering incentives to hear about something. NV AB 438 has no single sponsor. Many times I heard a member complain that they were not told it was a timeshare presentation. Nevada Assembly Bill 348 is an act relating to timeshare, providing the following:

Section 1 states:

1. The Administrator may impose a fine or suspend, revoke, reissue, subject to conditions, or deny the renewal of the registration of any representative if the representative has, by false or fraudulent application or representation, obtained a registration or is found guilty of (a) Making a material misrepresentation; (b) Making any false promises of a character likely to influence, persuade or induce another person to attend a timeshare presentation; (d) Must disclose that the promotion is for solicitation of timeshares.   

Florida HB 435: GENERAL BILL sponsored by freshman Representative Wyman Duggan profiled on LobbyTools.

Effective Date: 7/1/2019

At a Florida legislative workshop held March 12 in Tallahassee, the Florida Attorney General’s spokesperson admitted Florida received 1600 timeshare complaints annually in recent years, 700 so far this year, the bulk concerning the initial sales presentation, 50% seniors. “We engaged 42, mostly about resales,” they added.

This is good news for perpetrators as they can be assured oral representation will be dismissed, despite a volume and pattern of complaints.

Arizona ARDA lobbyist Don Isaacson assured those who attended the Arizona HB 2639 hearing that unfair and deceptive timeshare sales practices are minimal because Arizona only received 250 complaints in a year arguing that allowing a buyer 24 hours to review a perpetual contract is not necessary.

The Arizona House Bill 2639 was aimed at alleviating unfair and deceptive timeshare sales practices. The bill included allowing a timeshare buyer 24 hours to review a perpetual contract. ARDA was able to get this item in the bill thrown out.

I wrote “Timeshare Foreclosure Explained to Lenders” so members foreclosed can explain to their lender how when “pitched heat” by unscrupulous timeshare sales agents, they can lose $100,000 or more in a week, one second after the rescission period ends because the resort can fall back on the oral representation clause. By their own admission, Florida’s timeshare division DBPR will fall back on it too.  https://insidetimeshare.com/the-tuesday-slot-18/

From AZ HB 2639

Buyers often enter into timeshare contracts when on vacation, are encouraged to review documents after they return home from vacation, sometimes long after the rescission period has ended – leading to confusion, anxiety and costly fees that can last years.

The timeshare lobby ARDA and the timeshare industry have yet to acknowledge unfair and deceptive sales practices exist on the front end of the timeshare sale. The amount of money lost to timeshare exit companies pales in comparison to the amount of money timeshare members say they lost because they believed a timeshare sales agent, according to our 800 readers.  

When timeshare members receive their maintenance fee invoices, they are asked to make a $3 to $10 donation to ARDA ROC. Timeshare members collectively give ARDA ROC approximately $5 million a year. I have yet to meet the timeshare member who can tell me what ARDA ROC even stands for.

Timeshare members that have contacted Inside Timeshare are not trying to weasel out of their contracts because they can’t afford them. They allege unfair and deceptive timeshare sales practices. Our readers include doctors, lawyers, two private investigators, mortgage loan officers, professors, MBAs, war heroes, law enforcement professionals, criminologists (one a PhD), a detective who worked economic crimes under cover, and a contract specialist for ConEd, all alleging unfair and timeshare sales practices. What chance has the vulnerable?

All we ask is make it a level playing field, by providing disclosure, alerting the consumer – you cannot believe a word timeshare sale agents say because they could be “pitching heat.” Unscrupulous sales agents also harm honest sales agents trying to sell the product honestly. We’ve heard from a lot of them.       

The American Legislative Exchange Council

The reporter in this YouTube describes how lobbyists sit at the table with legislators filling in the blanks crafting desired bills tailored to their wishes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6MHYOB5uptc

Our volunteers answer questions about regulatory filings when members complain of unfair and deceptive timeshare sales practices. Many members have resolved disputes by filing regulatory complaints. Too many families have been financially harmed by their decision to buy a timeshare, a product advertised to reduce stress.

Self-help 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/

Other related articles:

Arizona HB 2639

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/opinion/os-florida-timeshare-tactics-scott-maxwell-20150411-column.html

https://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/diamond-resorts-still-cant-explain-why-it-sold-250000-worth-of-timeshare-points-to-an-88-year-old-032919.html

https://amp.usatoday.com/amp/3310015002

Thank you Irene, all we can hope for is that these Bills do not get through, timeshare consumers need protection not just from unscrupulous resale and exit companies but also from the industry as a whole. We have often stated that timeshare could be a good product, but as we know it is the way it is sold and the unfair conditions consumers have to put up with that are the problem.

Have a great weekend and join us again next week for more news and views on the world of timeshare.

Friday’s Letter from America

Welcome to the last Friday’s letter from America for August, this week Irene Parker reviews the similarities between victims of the Catholic Church and Timeshare victims, it looks at how speaking up can make a difference. But first a couple of items from Europe.

Another company offering discounted travel has come to our attention, Advantage Group British Travel SL, according to Spanish company records the registered address is:

C/ LA GAVIOTA 14 – APARTAMENTO 1-19, LOS ABRIGOS (GRANADILLA DE ABONA)

This address is actually an apartment block, no sign of any office in the street.

Telephone number (34) 922 456 773

The company was registered on 24 October 2016 with the administrator being one Victoria Hughes and the secretary one Caroline Elizabeth Docker.

It appears that they use OPC’s on the street with the ubiquitous scratch cards to lure holiday makers into a presentation. This will involve several hours of high pressure sales to get you to part with a significant amount of money for a membership to another dubious “discount holiday club”.

You will then get access to the following website

www.toptraveleurope.net

This can only be accessed once you have joined and received your code and membership, there is also a £75 a year administration fee.

Now the name of this company reminded us of another several years ago called British Travel based at the Centro Comercial Fañabe Plaza, which is also the base for Monster Travel, Sell My Timeshare and other Mark Rowe enterprises.

The director of British Travel was Paul Hughes, which was also a “discount holiday club”, but was pitched as a travel agency, where you could get discount from 25% to 80%. Obviously Victoria Hughes is more than likely his wife and is now the  front for this company, we also know that Caroline is linked to paul as they are facebook friends.

So beware the ticket touts and the offers of great discounts!

We have also been informed by one of our regular readers who had dealings with the fake law firm in tenerife, Legalidad Abogados, part of the Litigious Abogados family, of another email being received about his court case against Diamond.

This has caused us a great deal of hilarity, the case was supposedly heard on 24 July 2018 and the director of Diamond Resorts International pleaded guilty, just like all the timeshare directors in these cases from this fake outfit. You will never believe who they named as the director, MARK ROWE!

Well we all know that Mark Rowe is not a director at Diamond, he runs his own little empire featuring Monster Credits, Rewards and Travel, Hollywood Marketing and off course ABC Lawyers to name but a few.

So if you are reading this Mark, congratulations on your employment at Diamond and what a shame you ended up in court!

Now for today’s article.

Timeshare Predators compared to Catholic Predators

By Irene Parker

August 31, 2018

There are many good Catholic priests, sisters and nuns, especially Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister of Erie, Pennsylvania, speaking out on what has been the pervasive Catholic culture of institutional cover-up.

Sister explains,   

Pedophilia, the abuse of children, has finally unmasked for all to see the operational principles of an organization that has been able for years to ignore, reject– even disdain–the cries of multiple other groups of the ignored and abused.

It is clear now, in ways it was never clear before, how much damage is done to the church itself, ironically, by the kind of silence that makes it impossible for the church to admit its weaknesses, to deal with its questions. . http://www.joanchittister.org/

Something clicks inside a victim when they have had enough. Some timeshare companies employ the same tactics as the church. As timeshare members alleging fraud read through this, they will have no trouble seeing similarities. I advocate on behalf of timeshare members alleging fraud, alongside 44 Timeshare Advocacy Group™ advocates.

The Catholic scandal ultimately led me to timeshare advocacy. Turning anger over child abuse outward led me to CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates for children in foster care, where I learned how to write court reports for Family Court. When timeshare members contact me, their complaints are often confusing and lengthy. I listen to their allegations, transcribe, and return to them their complaint in court report format. Other advocates answer questions that come up when members need to file regulatory complaints

A life’s journey can take many twists and turns. My life changed dramatically after a trip to Peshawbestown, Michigan to meet with tribal spiritual director and peacemaker Paul Raphael of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians. Peacemaker Paul was one of nine male children who attended the Holy Childhood School of Jesus in Michigan where Indian boys were sexually abused by three School Sisters of Notre Dame nuns in the 1960s and ‘70s. I contacted him after reading a four part article about the abuse. By part four I was livid.

Unholy Childhood, June 29, 2008

https://www.northernexpress.com/news/feature/article-3760-unholy-childhood/

Grand Rapids Michigan investigative reporters met with Sister Laura Jean Spaeth of the School Sisters of Notre Dame in Milwaukee. Sister Spaeth was skeptical about the credibility so the reporters interviewed a total of 80 former students to verify the abuse.

“My answer was if it was just one person, that would be a legitimate argument — but we interviewed 80 people and we heard a consistently recurring story,” Golder said. “And it was troubling to me that the leaders of the order, sought to dismiss what we were saying based on the other problems in their lives,…but it was clear to me, as people told the same stories over and over, that it established a pattern that was factual.”

In 2008 I was practicing for a pipe organ exam at the cathedral for an American Guild of Organists exam. Patrick Cooney was Bishop then. Stunned after speaking with Peacemaker Paul, I wrote Bishop Cooney a letter asking if I could arrange a meeting. Peacemaker Paul resisted saying, “How will that help us?” I said it wouldn’t but it would help the Bishop because he cares and hearing directly from Peacemaker Paul could possibly help Bishop Cooney stop a potential abuser.  

Wounded Souls July 8, 2008

https://www.northernexpress.com/news/feature/article-3251-wounded-souls/

“There have been up to 400 reports nationally of sex abuse by nuns,” said David Clohessy, former national director and spokesman for SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “The laws are written in Michigan to protect perpetrators and those who are doing the cover-ups. There have been efforts in the Michigan legislature over the past five years to get those laws changed, to be more victim-friendly, but in each case the bishops and the bishop’s conference spent a lot of resources to get those laws defeated,” Clohessy said. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Clohessy

After experiencing a timeshare bait and switch, I wrote to ARDA, The American Resort Development Association, explaining my concerns. I thought they would be grateful someone brought criminal actions to their attention. I did not hear from ARDA except for an auto-reply. Approximately 200 allegations of fraud have been sent to ARDA over two years – and no response. ARDA does not mediate disputes, but they have a code of ethics that is being violated, based on member reports.

According to Dr. Amy Grant, University of Central Florida, who presented at an ARDA World conference in 2017.

“A whopping 85 percent of all buyers regret their (timeshare) purchase (for money, fear, confusion, intimidation, distrust and other reasons). Forty-one percent of buyers never thought they would regret their purchase, but they did; another 30 percent were neutral prior to buying, but then regretted it.”

https://www.redweek.com/resources/ask-redweek/arda-world-timeshare-owners

Victims need to file regulatory complaints, lobby lawmakers and reach out to the media. I attended a Catholic conference where victims and clergy met to address the problems. It is only through the courage and fortitude of the Sister Chittisters of the world, change happens. It is unclear if the Pope or ARDA have really accepted the reality of Social Media because victims no longer need be silenced and isolated.

This article does go to show that only by speaking up and working together can any real change happen, these cases of abuse, although very different in nature, in the church and timeshare have one thing in common, both want you to remain quiet and say nothing.

That’s all for the month of August, the courts in Spain are about to start hearing cases again so there will no doubt be some interesting news on the legal front. Also during September Inside Timeshare will not be publishing regular articles as I am on leave and spending some quiet time with a large family reunion.

Have a great weekend and remember, any company that contacts you regarding your timeshare, do your homework before you do any business with them.

The Changing Face of Timeshare Scams Pt 2

Over the years we have seen various changes in the scams surrounding timeshare, from the development of resorts in the beginning then the resale scam to the latest of the fake law firms. Once the timeshare is purchased then the never ending problem of who to trust emerges. Today we have a brief look at how these scams have changed, the only thing that ties them together is they want your hard earned cash.

The first scams to take place in what should have been a good product was the off-plan purchase. In the early days when timeshare resorts were proliferating, those on holiday were lured to the presentation deck or showrooms to be sold “The Dream”. These “UP’s” or “Unit Prospects” as you are known, were usually picked up off the street by the OPC’s or the touts with the scratch cards, every single person given these cards would win the Star Prize. Then taken to the deck to claim it and sit with a “rep” for the presentation.

They would be shown architects plans and artistic impressions of what the resort would look like, what facilities it would have and the standard of the apartments. Usually photos of existing resorts would be shown to enhance the quality that you would expect. It was also sold as an investment, you were buying into property or real estate, which would go up in value. In essence you were buying a share in your very own holiday home.

A proposed date for completion would be given and then the hard sell kicked in, for just a small deposit you can secure the week and apartment of your choice, if you could not afford the full price a payment plan or finance could be arranged. After all it would be some time before you would be able to use the resort as it still had to be built.

Unfortunately, many of these resorts were never actually completed or even started, what you purchased was a hole in the ground and “The Dream”. Many of these sales took place in destinations such as Portugal, Spain and its Islands. This did give these countries a very bad reputation.

It must also be remembered that these schemes tended to be run by criminals who needed to launder their ill gotten gains from criminal activities in their own countries. That was the start of the word “Timeshare” becoming synonymous with scams.

Once timeshare was established, the resale scam began to appear, many of these were based on the Costa del Sol which had many timeshare resorts. Call centers were set up, usually in apartments and hidden, remember there was no internet at that time, so making checks was virtually impossible.

The caller would introduce themselves and ask if you still owned the timeshare, once this was established the question of have you thought about selling, as the prices of timeshares was increasing. After all the purchaser did think they owned property!

After establishing what the owner had paid and what they owned, the agent calling would come up with a wonderful story of how they had sold recently for almost double the original purchase price. Once the owner had been hooked with the greed factor, then the agent would be needing a payment to list the property for sale. That would be the last you heard from them or your money.

The next move in the resale scam was the guaranteed buyer, or the corporate buyer, these tended to be the Discount Members Holiday Clubs, such as Designer Way Vacation Club and Club Class Concierge.

These originally worked in 2 ways, the pick up off the street or cold line, the call center targeting timeshare owners through lists. The cold line didn’t generally target owners, but once at the presentation they would establish that you did own timeshare.

With the telephone targeting of timeshare owners, they would be told that there was a buyer who was looking for timeshares, usually a corporate buyer. Once you agreed that you would be interested in selling they would invite you to their offices in Spain with free accommodation, to attend a meeting.

Once at the meeting the corporate buyer turned out to be a sales agent for the holiday club, they would take the timeshare off your hands but to do so you had to purchase membership into the club. You would get a discount for the timeshare and in many cases what was known as Cashback, which was another con in itself.

It the turned out that the discounts promised never materialised, the excuse was always the same, sorry not available on those dates. It also turned out that in many cases several year down the line the timeshare company started for non- payment of maintenance fees. The timeshare had not been disposed of as promised.

Thankfully the main culprits have been closed down, but there are still some about, resale scams still exist, but from what we have seen they are mainly targeting French and Belgian owners and are based in Marrakech.

We now move on to the claims sector which has really started to take off since the first Supreme Court rulings against timeshare companies.

Some of these are very sophisticated frauds, such as those of the Tenerife based family of fake law firms which we have dubbed the Litigious Abogados Family. Their method is very well put together, they even have some excellent fake court and procurator documents.

First they contact the owner, (in some cases the timeshare is no longer owned), with the story that the timeshare company is about to be taken to court and you can be in on the case. You are likely to receive thousands in compensation, but you do have to pay a fee to the procurator. Once paid, give it a couple of weeks and you are then notified that the director pleaded guilty and you have been awarded a substantial amount. Unfortunately there is a tax to be paid, which is 20% of the awarded amount, to back this up the unsuspecting timeshare owner is sent fake court documents showing the sentence and a photocopy of the cheque they will receive. Yes you guessed it there was no trial and you have just lost thousands.

Another ploy is the so-called firms calling themselves lawyers or claims companies, the pitch is simple, you have a claim which they will do on a no win no fee basis, great no legal fees upfront. There is one snag though, you need to cancel the contract first, but guess what they can do the relinquishment for you. All you have to do is pay upwards of £5000 and you will be out, then they will start the claim for you.

In some cases these companies have also used the “bait and switch” tactic to sell their own product, “Leisure Credits” (think Monster Credits) which is a discount club (very similar to the holiday club), again not worth the paper the contract is written on.

What we have seen with these particular schemes from many of our readers is simple, they have never received any money for the claim and they are now being chase for around 3 years of back maintenance. Their contract have never been relinquished.

We have seen this with one company that has gone out of business, RSB Legal. They operated for about 3 years so must have taken hundreds of people for tens of thousands of pounds. It must also be said that the UK authorities such as Trading Standards as well as the police are investigating many companies.

Yes, for the poor timeshare owner it is a very perilous world, a veritable minefield where thousands are lost on an almost daily basis, with very little hope of ever recovering what has been paid.

There are some genuine law firms and claims companies, these will not tell you that you have a claim if you don’t, it is not in their interest to take on cases which are not valid. As for relinquishments, many resorts will not deal with third parties, Ona Group, MGM Petchey, MacDonald Resorts, Diamond, Club la Costa and many more, they will only deal direct with the member. Then in most case the fee they charge is usually far less than what you would pay these other companies.

It now remains to be seen what form the next phase of scams will take, these crooks will always find an angle, after all they do want your money!

So the moral of this tale is doing your due diligence and plenty of homework, if you don’t know where to start, then use our contact page. We are here to give you free advice and point you in the right direction.