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.
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.
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.
Today Irene Parker gives us an insight into one lawsuit that has made the headlines in the US, it would seem that across the great lake it is the timeshare companies that are on the legal offensive. In Europe the timeshare companies are very much on the defensive as we have seen in some of our previous articles.
Just to clarify one point on the EU Timeshare Directives, that is what they are “directives”, they are not law. A directive issued by the EU is a guide to all EU States to enact into their own domestic laws certain aspects which affect citizens. It is up to each individual state to interpret those directives as they see fit. The whole point is that each State may strengthen the directives, which is what Spain has done with their own timeshare laws, firstly with Ley 42/98 and more recently with Ley 4/12.
Directives are there to try and unify each State’s laws, especially on the matter regarding consumers rights, which the timeshare directive was intended to do. Before the timeshare directives came out, timeshare in Europe was what can only be described as lawless, timeshare companies could walk all over the consumer, there was no protection, timeshare was a new concept which nobody actually understood.
It followed an old economic system known as Laissez-faire, which has its roots in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was to be free of any government intervention, such as regulation. More recently a new term was conceived by conservative politicians and economists ‘free-market capitalism’. Timeshare has always followed this model, profit, profit and more profit at the expense of the consumer. (Again it sounds like Star Treks Ferengi).
Until laws are strengthened to the benefit of the consumer, we are going to see many more of these legal battles, be it consumer against developer or developer against law firms, the stage is set, let battle commence!
Tea Party Nation is a conservative American group considered part of the Tea Party movement. The group was created by former Shelby County, Tennessee assistant district attorney Judson Phillips in 2009
Judson Phillips Ridiculed for Wanting to Deny Others the Right to Vote
Judson Phillips, the lawyer behind Castle Law Group (Nashville), latest idea has created a hurricane size backlash against Mr. Phillips. The Castle Law Group owner believes that only property owners should have the right to vote. Phillips seems to believe those who aren’t the elite feudal lords of property can’t be trusted to vote. Instead, they must be put back in their place as serfs, working for their lords for scraps off the feudalistic tables.
I contacted attorney Ben Hillard of the Castle Law Group P.A. in Largo, Florida a few months ago – by mistake. Mr. Hillard responded saying he thought I had his law firm confused with Castle Law Group PC of timeshare fame, law firms differentiated only by the initials P.A. and PC.Mr. Hillard would like to make it clear his firm is in no way associated with Mr. Judson Phillips or his law firm Castle Law Group PC. In a recent letter to Mr. Hillard, Mr. Phillips said his firm is considering rebranding for reasons not associated with Mr. Hillard’s concerns, the similarity in names.
Orlando-based timeshare companies Westgate Resorts and Orange Lake Country Club filed nearly identical lawsuits in Orlando against Tennessee firms Castle Law and Castle Marketing. Westgate and Orange Lake accuse the Castle companies of charging some customers an upfront litigation fee of $7,500. Orange Lake said Castle filed no lawsuits for any of its owners who paid the fee; Westgate said Castle hasn’t filed lawsuits for some owners who paid the litigation fee.
A senior partner with Castle — attorney and Tea Party leader Judson Phillips — denies those allegations…. he said in an email he believes the suits are frivolous, and he and Castle have obtained good results for clients.
According to a letter sent to Orange Lake attorney Brian Lower, from a Castle Law Group attorney, Castle accused Orange Lake of “gross misrepresentations regarding the terms and conditions of the Orange Lake timeshares in that they were fraudulently induced to enter into the timeshare contract and the debt instruments associated with such contracts in violation of federal and state laws.”
A letter from a lawyer like this triggers a “cease and desist” demand of all communication with the client, including collection attempts. This cease and desist letter has served as a bone of contention to timeshare developers in that a debt collector may not communicate with a consumer if the consumer is represented by an attorney or has an open Attorney General complaint, under the Fair Debt Collections Protections Act.
Among the twelve causes of action in Castle’s cease and desist letter against developers, are those our Inside Timeshare readers who have contacted us asking for help would not disagree with:
Improper and unethical high pressure sales tactics.
Gross and deliberate misrepresentations regarding benefits of ownership.
Gross misrepresentation regarding the ability to utilize timeshare points to cover fees associated with membership and exchanges.
False information regarding the ease and/or ability to resell for a profit.
False sense of urgency to purchase the same day.
Castle Law Group PC is not Better Business Bureau accredited, is nonrated, and a consumer complaint warning has been posted.
According to the Castle Law website they are timeshare lawyers trusted by thousands with a 4.7 out of 5 star ranking based on 12 reviews (powered by GetFiveStars). When I reached out to the firm for comment, I was put on hold for a very long time.
“Some of those cancellation companies that have been targeted by developers were actually started by their own former timeshare employees. Those folks learned how to exploit the system by learning what is called the inside track. They know how the high-pressure sales tactics work,” Crist said. “They attract timeshare owners in the same way — post cards offering a free dinner, or an evening out. They show owners how maintenance fees escalate, and literally scare the hell out of these people using calculations that are wildly inaccurate and overstated. These are not law firms but represent to have an attorney on staff, giving the illusion that there are legal services involved in the transaction. Rarely does the company even communicate with the resort and the timeshare owner doesn’t even know what is happening until it is too late. Why is that?”
Crist explained this is often due to an unqualified money back guarantee the company provides that isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. The owner is simply lulled into a false sense of security, until they are foreclosed on and that’s when all hell breaks loose. Crist has watched this happening for years, but says the industry is making a mistake by throwing legitimate attorneys in the same mix with resale, transfer and advocacy groups.
While the NTOA is involved with educating owners, advocating for their rights and helping them engage in the product they already own, they do not sell, transfer or offer services like TPE’s do. Any timeshare member or owner can join NTOA.
The present legal climate in the timeshare world is reminiscent of the old west with summons flying like bullets back and forth across the corral. Lost in the middle is the consumer, many complaining they purchased a timeshare based on false promises. The timeshare lobby ARDA and the major timeshare developers seem determined to ignore outcries of deceit on the front end of the timeshare sale.
All attorneys are not created equal. It seems that timeshare developers don’t want a timeshare member to ever contact any lawyer and they lump all attorneys into a kettle of frivolous lawsuit filers. Two major developers attributed their rise in default rate due to “attorneys targeting members and cease and desist letters.” As in any profession, some attorneys do have questionable business practices, but any citizen should have a right to their day in court and the legal representation that accompanies that right if they feel they were deceived into purchasing a timeshare.
One former Hyatt and Diamond Resorts sales agent described “inventory recycling” as a hamster wheel that sometimes begins with deceit and bait and switch on the front end of the sale. To date (as of August 16, 2017) Inside Timeshare has received 124 inquiries of which 110 allege they were deceived on the front end of the timeshare sale. Most have outstanding loans.
“I am asking you to look at the moon and you are staring at the end of my finger,” deceased Jesuit Priest Anthony DeMello once wrote. That’s how I feel listening to case after case from family members, often financially devastated, alleging they were deceived, sometimes just days after a rescission period. Why won’t developers take a closer look at their own house?
Contact Inside Timeshare if you have a positive or negative timeshare experience to share, through your experiences others may have a better understanding of what they are going through and see that they are not alone.
If you need any further information regarding any article published, or wish to know where you stand legally with your timeshare, Inside Timeshare is here to help. Contact us and we will point you in the right direction.
Welcome to this week’s Friday’s Letter from America, this week we publish Part II of Karen Garello’s Secret Shopper report, but as usual we look at what is happening in Europe.
During our daily searches of various timeshare websites and forums this particular article made us chuckle. It was published on the Travel & Leisure Group (timeshare resale) website under information and Timeshare Blog, it is an interview with Gavin Brown and his recent stay at Anfi, he is manager of the said company, obviously written by one of the employees who conducted the interview.
The piece starts out with “Anfi Beach Club is known throughout the timeshare industry as a real gem”. It then goes on to describe the location, “Ideally located on a heart-shaped island in Gran Canaria”. Well straight away that brought everyone down laughing, the heart shaped island is a man made island which is situated between the beach and the marina. It does not have the room for the huge resort called Anfi! It does however have sunbeds, a cocktail bar and a restaurant. You can also hire the island for weddings, if you can afford the 12,000€ for the basic package.
It turns out that Mr Brown, who has been in the timeshare industry for years, has never owned a timeshare, (I wonder why?). Mr Brown stated that he always booked with online travel agents and package holidays, but due to sometimes being disappointed with room location and the standards of the hotels, he felt that timeshare resorts offered better standards.
Well, we can agree with that, so why did he choose Anfi? As he put it he has a great knowledge of Anfi, having sold so many resale weeks, so when “A fantastic week and apartment became available at a great price, and I couldn’t pass it up”. Although we couldn’t help wondering if he would have bought at the ridiculous prices direct from Anfi?
He then goes on with a wonderful sales pitch on how great the place is, the wonderful facilities and the great restaurants, with reasonable prices compared to other 5* resorts. Well sorry Mr Brown, but you can get even better food at even better prices by leaving the resort and heading to some of the local restaurants.
The article then ends with “If this has made you consider Anfi Beach Club, or any of the other Anfi resorts, why not call Gavin himself or one of his colleagues to discuss further”?
Could it be they have that many weeks on their books they need to do a sales drive to get rid of them?
The other point to remember is that when you buy resale you don’t get all the benefits as you would buying direct from Anfi. See the link to the previous article on Resale Vs Direct.
After all, his past is not what you could call squeaky clean, there has been a lot in the press and on TV about some of his past enterprises, Monster Credits springs to mind. By purchasing a company already regulated by the MoJ it does save him the problem of applying to the MoJ for authorisation, then having to pass the competence and suitability assessment, which is not a simple task.
Going back to Anfi, although the courts are closed during the month of August, some staff are still working and issuing sentence papers from cases heard previously, this particular case was heard on 6 July. The Court of First Instance in Maspalomas awarded the former Anfi member 42,625€, again the infringement of the timeshare law was the length of the contract, being over 50 years in duration. So Anfi, do you continue to deny that you are losing in the courts?
Inside Timeshare encourages its readers to submit positive articles about timeshare experiences, so I was relieved to have attended a positive sales presentation at The Suites at Fall Creek in Branson, Missouri. Unfortunately, the presentation was followed by a less than positive customer service experience.
My Diamond saga began when I purchased a trial Sampler program I had not realized I had purchased until I returned home and saw a $3,995 charge to a Barclaycard. Diamond would not reverse the charge.
Trying to make the best of a bad situation, I decided to attend a presentation as this is required when purchasing a Sampler. After I returned home from a Branson presentation, I attempted to access Luxury benefits but was denied access. Luxury benefits include luxury hotels, shopping and wine. When I contacted customer services at the Sampler department, asking why I was denied access, the customer service agent put me on hold for a long time while he called Branson. After completing his “investigation” he told me the reason I could not access Luxury benefits is because Branson reported me as a “NO SHOW”!!!
Had it not been for our Diamond Resorts member supported Advocacy Facebook, I probably would not have gotten the sales agent’s name, and I certainly would not have prepared a report.
Admitting deceit it seemed, the customer service agent said, according to the notes during the presentation (he initially said I had not attended), I had told the sales agent TK I had complained about the unauthorized charge to purchase the Sampler. I pointed out that I had used my American Express for all the charges I made at The Suites. Customer service said they will investigate further and get back to me.
Now onto my original article
Many timeshare companies already have Secret Shopper programs. Still, it doesn’t hurt for timesharing member Secret Shoppers to evaluate for other members how near or far a timeshare sales agent ventures from his or her script.
I guess I am not that secret of a Secret Shopper in that my name is on this article, so I hope the good experience I had at Diamond Resorts – The Suites at Fall Creek in Branson, Missouri wasn’t because they were aware of my Timeshare Advocacy Group™ position, Secret Shopper Coordinator. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt.
My presenter was TK Armstrong. She used to work for Bluegreen but joined Diamond because she said they have more resorts. TK and I talked for about 45 minutes. I went over my Polo Towers experience. She seemed sincerely concerned. She showed me a description of CLARITY™Diamond’s new Enhanced Quality Assurance program. She was supportive of the program and said she was going to abide by it. She went over the Sampler product I did not realize I purchased until I returned home from Polo Towers. At least I know what I bought now.
We have three new Secret Shoppers. We will not identify them because they are, well, secret. After compiling over 100 complaints from readers who have reached out to Inside Timeshare for assistance, we have determined the most popular complaints involve the following:
Maintenance Fee relief program that do not exist,
The ability to sell points or weeks when there is no secondary market,
The value of travel awards,
Misrepresenting the value of using a credit card to offset Maintenance Fees,
Stating a lower loan interest rate can be obtained from a bank or credit union in order to escape high timeshare loan interest rates,
We arm our Secret Shoppers with intelligent questions that, maybe because of being on vacation brain, people forget to ask. These are questions of course that any timeshare consumer can ask, so we share them with our readers. Transparency, honesty and accuracy are rated on a scale from one to five with a five being the most honest. Results are tabulated quarterly and sent to our team for review. After we complete our pilot program, we hope to submit the data to the respective resort for review.
May I take notes?
How long have you worked at this resort?
Have you worked at other resorts?
What did you do before you sold timeshare?
May I call my lawyer to discuss your proposal?
May I take the contract to my room so that I can have an adequate amount of time to review such a major purchase?
Are you a member? May we log onto your account so I can check actual availability and value? I am spending a significant amount of money on something I have not even attempted to use.
Resale or Exit Program
What happens if I can no longer use or afford the timeshare?
If I can sell it, how can I sell it? Who do I call? Can you give me a reference?
Note: Contact a member of the Licensed Timeshare Resale Broker Association to ask about the benefits or lack of benefits buying on the resale market and to see if they will accept a listing for the timeshare you own.
Please show me in the paperwork the cap on maintenance fee increases. How much does a maintenance fee go up on average annually? Does it go up every year?
Can you provide a five year history of Maintenance Fee increases?
Is there anything I can do to offset Maintenance Fees?
If I can use my points for maintenance fees, how much per point are they credited?
Where in the paperwork can I verify this information?
If I offset Maintenance Fees with credit card purchases, please provide an example of the value of a $1 purchase and how many purchases it would take to pay off my annual maintenance Fee? (One member reported it would cost over $270,000 in annual purchases to pay a $2,700 Maintenance Fee!)
Can I rent my timeshare to pay Maintenance Fees?
If I can use my points for hotels, what is the value per point?
If I can use my points for airline tickets, what is the value per point?
If I can use my points for a cruise, what is the value per point?
Where in the paperwork does it state my loan interest rate?
How much will I pay for the timeshare if I carry the loan for the maximum term?
Is there anything I can do to reduce my interest rate?
What is the interest and penalty if I miss a payment?
If consumers must take out a loan to buy a timeshare, consider carefully the actual cost of financing a vacation at 12 to 18%. America is a buy now pay later society. I don’t think many financial planners would recommend financing a luxury item without comparison shopping. Well over half of the complaints Inside Timeshare has received involve high interest rate financing.
We hope Secret Shoppers create smart shoppers asking the right questions before plunging into a purchase so many of our readers have come to regret. Societal changes are influencing the wants and needs of today’s traveler. Are timeshares more flexible or less if you are locked into usage and maintenance fees increasing annually.
Our first Secret Shopper, Laurie Sabbagh, offered the first Timeshare Advocacy Group™ Secret Shopper report. She reported some good and not so good observations. Of merit is the warning to timeshare buyers to take the promise of travel awards a step farther and ask, “At what value?” In general consumers should buy a timeshare for its intended purpose which is to vacation at a resort. Here is Laurie’s report:
Contact Inside Timeshare if you have interest in becoming a Secret Shopper or would like to share a positive or negative timeshare shopping experience. There are several member supported Facebooks and websites where members can reach out to other members to share experiences. Timeshare Advocacy Group™ posts information from all sites. Our motto, courtesy of Jimi Hendrix, is –
Thanks to Karen for her Secret Shopper part II, also thanks to Irene as usual for the editing and coordination from the other side of the great lake. We have many more articles coming up in the next few weeks with part II of Hug Your Haters and a piece about the Castle Law Group lawsuit with Orange Lake. We will also be having another article from our Antipodean friends from the other side of the world.
So that’s it for this week, have a great weekend and we will be with you next week.