Welcome to another edition of The Tuesday Slot, this week we welcome back Shielah Brust with her article on Unfair and Deceptive Sales Practices. It is in response to the industry’s claim that timeshare members are being subjected to “Deceptive Timeshare Exit Practices”, yet we at Inside Timeshare receive many complaints on this subject by the industry’s very own sales agents. If Michael Flaskey wants these exit companies to be regulated then the industry should also take a very close look at itself. We do agree that there are some unscrupulous “Exit” companies, but at the end who is actually to blame for their creation in the first place?
To: Michael Flaskey, Diamond Resorts CEO
The Unfair in Unfair and Deceptive Sales Practices
Timeshare Exit Companies have little to fear if they are to be regulated like Florida timeshare
“The long term strategy is, if there are (exit) companies out there that really are legitimate, which we haven’t seen yet,” Flaskey said, “then they need to be regulated the same way our (timeshare) industry is regulated.”
Michael Flaskey, Diamond Resorts CEO
Testimony from the Florida Legislative Workshop March 2019
Victoria Butler, from the Florida Attorney General’s Department of Consumer Protection, reported a figure of 1,500 to 1,600 timeshare complaints in recent years, with about 50% involving senior citizens. She said the majority of complaints were in regard to the initial sales presentation. Ms. Butler stated that the Florida timeshare division, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), engaged only 42 complaints, the majority concerning resale.
By Shielah Brust
Tuesday, July 30, 2019
I am writing in response to the article linked above written by Chabeli Herrerra of the Orlando Sentinel. In the article, Mr. Flaskey expresses his concern over timeshare members experiencing deceptive timeshare exit sale practices. Based on Diamond Resorts complaints reported by many members of our self-advocacy group, and dismissals received from DBPR, there is little to no timeshare regulation in Florida. DBPR backs up Diamond’s “You signed a contract” defence with “Verbal representations are hard to prove.”
While many Diamond members have had disputes resolved, the process requires endless rebuttals and often regulatory and law enforcement filings. In addition, we have sent more than 200 complaints to the timeshare lobby ARDA and ARDA ROC. Mr. Flaskey sits on ARDA’s Board of Directors.
To take the “un” out of “unfair” timeshare buyers should be allowed to record the sales session. I am one of 101 Diamond Platinum members who have reported unfair and deceptive timeshare sales practices. In our case, we even have our “pencil pitch” that proves we were pitched a nonexistent maintenance fee relief program. One need not read any further than $8631 – $8631 = no maintenance fees. My DBPR investigator, when she first saw my proof, said, “I can’t believe they let you walk out with that paperwork!” Our 2017 “pencil pitch”:
Three complaints and one lawsuit have been filed against Brad L, a sales agent at Daytona Beach Regency. Only the most recent of the four complaints resolved. A VIP at Diamond corporate told us in 2018 that they agreed Brad L’s explanation was confusing. As a result, they said they changed the way agents present the program. However, a year later, in 2019, the fourth complaining member produced a “pencil pitch” identical to ours. Only the numbers vary.
In 2017, Brad L told us to “wait a few months before turning in points to pay maintenance fees because the website (member page) was being rebuilt so that the member would be able to view a split-screen showing promised double points.” Two years later, in 2019, Brad told complainant #4 to wait a few months before checking because the website was being rebuilt.
Also unfair is the recording of the QA closing session. The recording is routinely used against the member. Complaints are dismissed because the buyer did not ask questions in regard to what they were promised.
Members often report how they were coached on how to “pass” QA. The member believed the sales agent so did not ask questions. A member can only access the recording by subpoena, meaning the member must retain a lawyer in order to view it.
This recording of the QA session was sold to the Arizona Attorney General as “enhanced training” after the Arizona Attorney General issued an Assurance of Discontinuance. Their office received hundreds of complaints during 2016 and 2017. From the AOD:
“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:
- Sales agents should not deviate from sales material
- Sales agents should not make oral representations at the point of sale inconsistent with the Purchase document.
Since 1994, we have spent over $200,000 on Diamond points, not including maintenance fees. We have been fighting Diamond for over 18 months. Of the 101 Platinum member complaints, approximately half are about members purchasing additional points based on overstated maintenance fee relief programs and the rest the ability to sell points. Diamond points are worthless on resale, and the only program to be relieved of maintenance fees would relieve only $2,000 towards an $8600 maintenance fee, and the member is charged $100 to do so.
- Mr. Flaskey, consider believing your highest loyalty customers over sales agents that have had multiple complaints filed against them.
- Allow buyers to record the sales session. Why would you not allow this?
- Florida needs to become a one-party state so the buyer can legally record an in-person presentation if Diamond will not allow the sales session recorded.
- Allow a 24 hour “cooling off” period so buyers can breathe before signing a perpetual contract, easily sold by deceit, accompanied by annual maintenance fees, and no secondary market.
Diamond’s lawyers twisted our written proof to mean what they wanted it to mean and twisted our words to mean what they wanted our words to mean. After Diamond allowed Brad L to answer the complaint his way, DBPR closed my case.
A letter of denial from Julia Russell, Consumer Legal Affairs Paralegal, and Russell Burke, Diamond in-house counsel, corporate headquarters, stated it was their understanding I refused to meet with the DBPR in person. I sent them the email requesting a meeting. I informed DBPR I would be in Orlando on May 16, 2019, and would bring boxes of emails, texts and other information.
I offered to meet with the DBPR reviewers. I told them I would be in Orlando. When I went to their office on May 16, 2019, their door was locked and a security sign was posted on the door.
Hard-working people who had been loyal Diamond members for years now devote a considerable amount of time reaching out to lawmakers, the media, and regulators asking the government to take a hard look at the way timeshare companies are destroying many families financially, mentally, and even physically. I will continue to fight to help others and file complaints with governmental and law enforcement agencies. Here’ how to file with the FTC and the FBI:
We advise members to send complaints to ARDA President Jason Gamel, also Sr. Legal VP for Wyndham, ARDA ROC, Apollo Global Management, Diamond Resorts CEO Michael Flaskey, Ashley Moody, Florida Attorney General, and Barclay’s Bank, if a credit card was involved.
Florida’s Department of Business Practice and Regulation (DBPR) response to our complaint after I asked why the Arizona Attorney General launched an investigation based on a volume and pattern of complaints:
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 sure 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.
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. From Brad’s notes:
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!
Diamond’s Clarity™ promise launched after Mark Brnovich, Arizona Attorney General, issued 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.
On April 5, 2018, we received a call from a DRI Hospitality agent. 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 savings for yourself doesn’t make the explanation illegal.
According to the Federal Trade Commission Section 5
An act or practice is deceptive where
- a representation, omission, or practise 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 practise is material.
I hope Ms. Herrerra will write a story for the people’s side.
Sincerely, Sheilah Brust, a Diamond Platinum member in foreclosure
Pictured from left: Anna and Diamond Platinum members Cindy, Patty and Sheilah
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.
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Thank you Shielah for a very interesting article and for taking the time to write it, you have certainly made some very interesting points. Inside Timeshare will continue to publish the concerns of these practices by the timeshare industry as well as exit and resale companies who use these same techniques.
Tomorrow Inside Timeshare will be publishing more on the Anfi story regarding the intervention of the Provincial Prosecutors Office, we will be publishing a news item aired by TVE 1 News which is Spanish National Television. It includes an interview with the Canarian Legal Alliance Lawyer Eva Gutiérrez.