Westgate Rips Off Owners with Secret Pocketed Docs

Lawsuit Claims Gatlinburg Westgate Resort 'Ripped Off' Timeshare Owners Who Could Never Book Vacations

6:34 PM, Sep 26, 2018

A new lawsuit claims the Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort and Spa in Gatlinburg is selling dream vacations in the Smokies, but when timeshare owners go to book their vacations, there are never any rooms available.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - What if you bought a timeshare and could never use it?

A new lawsuit has claimed a Gatlinburg resort is selling dream vacations in the Smokies, but when you go to book that vacation, there are never any rooms available. And, it turns out, that's not the only surprise some consumers are getting.

We've all heard of high pressure timeshare sales, but what's alleged in this lawsuit takes it to a whole new level.

According to the suit, it's happening right in the heart of where so many people love to vacation: Gatlinburg and the Smokies.

The Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort and Spa's website promises you can "rest and relax" right in the heart of the Smokies, close to the popular tourist destinations of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. It even has a water park, but a new lawsuit has alleged that those who buy timeshares at the Westgate Resort never get to experience any of this.

"It's part of a very complicated, high pressure scheme, as we've alleged, to take money but deliver essentially nothing," said attorney Mark Chalos with the Nashville office of Lieff Cabraser.

Chalos is one of the lawyers now suing the companies that own and run the Westgate. The 65-page suit has claimed Westgate salespeople are "encouraged to lie to customers in high-pressure sales pitches." But customers, the lawsuit said, are never given a key piece of information.

"They're never told that in fact they're probably never going to be able to ever use the property," Chalos explained.

He said the problem is Westgate's business model is to sell the condos not just once, but over and over and over again.

"So, one unit, they may sell hundreds of times, and when people call to say, 'I'd like to use a week,' they're not available," Chalos relayed.

The class action lawsuit right now names six clients, including a woman from Murfreesboro who paid $18,000 for her timeshare and another woman from Goodlettsville who spent $30,000. Both said they were never able to book a vacation.

And then there is the "secret pocket."

According to the lawsuit, when consumers buy a timeshare at Westgate, the company makes it very difficult for consumers to find the legal documents that spell out their rights, including their right to cancel the transaction.

"It appears to be a standard practice there that they use these leather binders that have these secret compartments or secret pockets, and they appear to be used with some frequency," Chalos told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

"You call it a secret pocket? You think these are designed to hide documents from consumers?" we asked him.

"Yes!" he replied emphatically.

The lawyers believe what they're alleging affects a "substantial" number of families. They said there are certainly hundreds, likely thousands and possibly a lot more consumers who've fallen victim to these business practices, as they maintain these sorts of things have been going on at Westgate for at least the last decade.

TIMESHARE INDUSTRY GANGS UP ON EXIT FIRMS

WASHINGTON - The timeshare industry, the American Resort Development Association (ARDA) and ARDA Resort Owners' Coalition (ARDA-ROC), have united to stop the misconduct of those deceiving timeshare owners into paying for illusory timeshare exit services through fraudulent means. Recently, the Supreme Court of Tennessee disbarred attorney Judson Wheeler Phillips, founder of the Castle Law Group, on a myriad of charges relating to consumer fraud complaints. In the past few weeks, Castle Law Group has ceased business operations following federal lawsuits brought by developers against Castle Law Group and those acting in concert with the firm. In another matter prosecuted by Wyndham Destinations against American Consumer Credit (ACC), among the largest timeshare exit companies, the pursuit of ACC, its principal, Dana Micaleff and its attorney, Michael Saracco, Esq. resulted in ACC filing bankruptcy on September 7, 2018.

In Phillips' case, the Tennessee Supreme Court disbarred Phillips after reviewing upwards of 18 client complaints, many of which made similar allegations of fraud, highlighting a pattern and practice of misconduct. In its ruling, the Tennessee Supreme Court found that Phillips "poses a threat of substantial harm to the public." Central to the series of complaints were allegations that Phillips and his business partners misled and/or defrauded consumers by taking exorbitant fees from timeshare owners for purported timeshare exit or cancellation services based upon fraudulent and misleading representations.

The ACC case is based on various legal theories, some of which are founded in federal law, known as the "Lanham Act." The case remains pending against Micaleff, individually, and Saracco, individually, although an automatic stay has been issued relative to ACC in the U.S. District Court action as a result of the bankruptcy filing. That, however, has not deterred the prosecution of the case. As of today, there is a motion pending against Micaleff and Saracco to punish them for, among other things, failing to appear for a deposition.

"The constant pressure that our member companies, owners and federal and state agencies are putting on disreputable timeshare exit companies has again produced a positive result for the consumer," said Robert Clements, ARDA Vice President of Regulatory Affairs. "Seeing two significant actions against these companies sends a very clear message to others trying to take advantage of timeshare owners: You won't get away with it." Clements continued, "If you feel you have been unfairly taken advantage of or defrauded by a timeshare exit company, please contact your state Attorney General, local law enforcement or the ARDA?ROC Consumer Support Team at 1-855-939-1515."

In addition to ARDA's advocacy efforts that support stricter laws, enforcement measures and tougher penalties on offenders, ARDA created a Joint Investigative / Enforcement Taskforce last fall to minimize fraud in the secondary market.

"A top priority for our industry and owners, and for law enforcement and other agencies, is to protect consumers from dishonest individuals or companies trying to take advantage of them," said ARDA-ROC Chairman Ken McKelvey. "These actions send a strong signal to criminals that fraud and deceptive activities will not be tolerated by our industry and it tells consumers that we take the actions of these individuals very seriously."

"We are committed to protecting our owners to ensure they aren't taken advantage of," said Michael Brown, President and CEO of Wyndham Destinations. "Through our partnership with ARDA, ARDA-ROC and regulatory and enforcement agencies, we support consumer protection legislation and law enforcement's efforts in cases like these. We encourage our owners to reach out to us or ARDA for participation in legitimate available programs in order to avoid becoming victims of timeshare exit company scams."

Nearly two years ago, Diamond Resorts implemented an aggressive litigation strategy in pursuit of third party exit companies for their nefarious and unlawful conduct in an effort to protect the interest of their members who were promised outcomes that could not be legally accomplished. In tandem, Diamond Resorts also pursued those unethical law firms, such as Castle Law Group, which were assisting these timeshare exit companies in their illegal business practices. To date, these efforts culminated in approximately 12 lawsuits prosecuted by Diamond Resorts throughout the country, six of which have already resulted in broad injunctions against the defendants, while the others remain pending.

Senior litigation counsel, Bud Bennington, of the law firm Shutts & Bowen LLP, counsel for Diamond Resorts in the Castle Law Group litigation in the U.S. District Court in Nashville, Tennessee, and, counsel for Wyndham Destinations in the ACC matter pending in the U.S. District Court, for the Southern District of Florida, commented that "the various timeshare companies, their law firms, ARDA and ARDA-ROC have undertaken a relentless effort to arrest the nefarious and unlawful conduct of the multiple timeshare exit companies around the world and the unethical lawyers that assist them in the perpetration of their deceptive practices."

ARDA continues to pursue and support appropriate timeshare resale and transfer legislation in an effort to protect owners against fraudulent timeshare schemes.

OPINION

 2018-07-08 17:07

Complex world of timeshare market

By Chang Se-moon
 

Timeshare refers to an apartment, condo, or house that you buy with other people so that you can each use it for a particular number of days every year. In reality, timeshare had been quite popular at resort communities, although we now hear problems associated with timeshare arrangements.

According to a story that I received from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission late in May, Timeshare Resales, a Florida company, called timeshare owners, and promised to sell their properties. Timeshare Resales "often said it had a buyer in mind and that the sale would occur quickly. Once the timeshare owner agreed, the company would charge an up-front fee, usually $500 to $2,500." 

According to the FTC, "the company did not sell the property quickly ― or even at all. Often, it would ask for additional fees and refuse to grant refunds." The company is no longer allowed by the FTC to "collect any more payments for their timeshare services."

On May 20 to 22, there was an annual conference of the Timeshare Board Members Association in Orlando, Florida. I was invited as a guest of a board member. This is what I learned.

The term timeshare has a damaged reputation. There is no easy exit strategy, meaning that it is hard to walk away from timeshare. There is a proliferation of exit companies of varying reputations. 

There is the problem of how to treat animals that owners want to bring. Some tenants may try to cheat by claiming that their pets are service animals. The least the resort can do is to spell out its clear policies on how to treat service animals as well as pets.

There is a high rate of delinquency in paying maintenance fees. According to the Withum Benchmarking Study of 2016, bad debt accounted for up to 20.4 percent of total revenue for 30 resorts included in the study.

Resorts need periodic reserve studies to avoid special assessments. For many 40- to 50-year old structures, even reserve studies tend to miss needed repairs hiding behind the walls. For new structures, timeshare owners do not want to pay for reserve studies, let alone make annual contributions to reserve funds, since repairs will be a problem after they are gone. Repairs of aging structures then become the problem of current owners.

Risk management is an issue often faced by timeshare associations. Board members may transfer risk by buying insurance, accept the risk by handling it when something bad happens, or avoid risk by not undertaking a particular business or action. For instance, the risk of bicycle-related injury can be transferred by buying insurance, paying for the claim if and when it happens, or banning use of bicycles altogether.

Technology is an important aspect of modern resorts. Websites have to be updated. Advertising on social media is important. Online booking should be made available. Resorts should be able to accept credit cards online. Availability of units or intervals should be updated often and accurately. Communication via email after the booking needs to be made. Local leisure opportunities near the resort should be introduced. Wi-Fi should be made available to guests.

Resorts need to send periodic newsletters to all timeshare owners and visitors, possibly via email, to make them feel that they belong.

Interior design can be improved by digital printing, which will not only improve the visual environment, but can be employed for marketing purposes as well. Pillow covers, for instance, can show pictures of selected resort facilities available to visitors.

Resorts need to know the preferences of millennials who are the increasing majority of timeshare tenants. A SWOT analysis may be beneficial for resorts to develop strategies uniquely beneficial to their individual places.

Resorts need to develop uniform policies on tax on transient tenants that is becominges increasingly popular among revenue-hungry state and local governments.

In fund management, by maintaining staggered deposits, resorts may be able to increase interest earnings. Staggered deposits mean that rather than depositing, say, $1 million as one account, split the amount into four at $250,000 each and have accounts that mature every three months.

Collecting delinquent maintenance fees is a difficult issue. Delinquent timeshare owners should be given all the options of making payment such as credit card, debit card, checks via mailing, and post-dated payment. They also need to be told that if payment is not made by a certain date, collection will be turned over to a collection agency.

When a collection agency is hired, resorts should ensure that the agency is reputable and follows the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Resorts are not immune to illegal ways of collecting debt even by an outside agency. Personal data must be safeguarded even after the payment.

Resorts should participate in local chambers of commerce; maintain registration papers to include marketing information; consider stocking on-site store of daily needs such as detergents or washing items; carry out periodic survey of guests; and identify advantages that are likely unique to the particular resort.


Chang Se-moon (changsemoon@yahoo.com) is the director of the Gulf Coast Center for Impact Studies.

Real estate expert: Four reasons you should never buy a timeshare

UPDATED: FEB 20 2018 03:59PM EST

ATLANTA - Timeshares make perfect sense. Instead of paying a hotel some outrageous rate for a week at the beach, find exactly what you want and share the cost with 50 other couples. Each couple gets a week a year, and the benefits of ownership too, right? Unfortunately, the reality often falls short of the dream.

Here to unravel the good, the bad and the ugly of timeshares is real estate expert John Adams.

Question: The concept of a timeshare makes perfect sense. Just spread out the cost of ownership among like-minded families, and everybody wins, right???

John Adams: A timeshare gives you a partial ownership of a vacation property. You pay an upfront price to purchase your unit and then an annual maintenance fee. This gives you access to the property for a certain period of time, which is usually the same time slot each year. When you are not using the timeshare, other owners with a similar interest are.

The average sales price for a one-week timeshare today is approximately $20,940, with an average annual maintenance fee of $880 per unit and boasts 132 units, according to industry stats. That equals over a million dollars for what is essentially an apartment. That also equals a building annual budget of over $45,000 per year per unit for tax, insurance, maintenance, and repairs. Pretty pricey!

Most timeshare agreements are indefinite contracts, meaning that you’re obligated to pay the maintenance fee indefinitely, which is a big financial commitment.

Q:  OK, so you said there were four major problems?

Adams: It’s a great idea that just usually does not work out. There are four major problems with timeshares.  

1.  The concept is too complex

Ownership of real estate involves lots of decisions. And when you have 25 owners of each unit and 100 units in a building, you have 2,500 owners trying to decide when to mow the lawn.

Timeshare deals are complex transactions. They are not simple to understand and usually require the help of a timeshare attorney to fully understand. But even an attorney can not predict the future.

So, if the economy changes, and owners need income, should the timeshare allow individual owners to rent out their unit for their specified weeks?  Who decides?  Can they have pets? And this is just the beginning…

2.  Things happen in life, and you might not be able to use your assigned week.

If you want to use your unit for another week, you must “bank” your week and exchange it for another time or location.

Except that the locations that accept you banked week don’t offer anywhere you might ever want to go. Or all the good weeks are already gone. Or worse, they offer you POINTS you can use for airfare or gift cards in exchange for your week this year. And the exchange rates are outrageous.

And even if you do not use your week at all, you STILL have to pay the annual maintenance fee, which is outrageous (and goes up every year).

3.  Timeshares don’t generate income.

The marketers of timeshares often tout the wonderful benefits of investing in real estate, but with a timeshare, you don’t get most of those benefits.

There is typically no income, no depreciation, no equity build-up, no appreciation, and no leverage. In short, the profit is made by the salesman and the developer, not YOU.

4.  Timeshares offer almost NO liquidity.

At one point or another, you will want or need to sell your timeshare. So learn now that there is almost ZERO market for your resale unit. And if you are lucky enough to get an offer, it will likely be less than half what you paid.

To make matters worse, more units are being built all the times, and existing owners have flooded the market wanting to get out.

Q:  John, what’s the bottom line?

A:  I have a better idea:  SKIP the timeshare, use the cash to buy solid investments, and go to a nice hotel wherever you choose when you choose.  You’ll end up WAY ahead in the long run.

I TRIED TO BOOK A HOTEL , SO WHY DID I END UP WITH A TIMESHARE PITCH ?

I tried to book a hotel, so why did I end up with a timeshare pitch?

Christopher ElliottKing Features

I recently booked a room at a Holiday Inn in Orlando, Florida — at least, I thought I did. After making the reservation, I was switched to a sales agent, who invited me to attend a one-hour presentation that would show me "a way to enjoy all the luxuries of a vacation" at a cost of $199, which would be fully refunded, along with a $100 rebate.

Within 10 minutes of receiving my confirmation, I realized that this was for a timeshare. I'm 87 and not a candidate for a timeshare.

I replied to the confirmation email, but received a response that said: "The email address you entered could not be found." I called the confirmation number and spoke to a woman who said, "OK, I'm canceling the transaction and putting a $199 credit on your Visa card."

The credit did not appear on my statement.

I then received another email saying, "You're on your way to Orlando," and if I had any questions, I should call. I spoke with another Holiday Inn representative, who told me that "my refund should be credited in a few days." She also told me to send an email to her, explaining what had happened, which I did.

My Visa was never credited. Bank of America attempted to obtain the credit, but was denied. Can you help me get my $199 back?

— George Feld, Boynton Beach, Fla.

A: Holiday Inn should have booked a hotel room for you, as you requested, instead of transferring you to a representative who pitched a timeshare. When you asked the company to reverse your transaction, it should have done what it promised. Instead, it looks as if Holiday Inn just tried to pocket your money.

I take a dim view of timeshares. While some travelers may benefit from them, many more are disappointed by their "investments" and complain to me about it. You need to carefully consider a timeshare before making a purchase. Clearly, at age 87, this wasn't the right real estate transaction for you, and Holiday Inn should have quickly given you the refund it had offered.

I'm also troubled by the way your call apparently was handled. If you called to make a reservation, why would anyone transfer you to a timeshare sales department? And why would they charge you to attend a sales pitch? I wasn't there, but I imagine someone asked you if you wanted to "save even more" and you said "yes." Who wouldn't?

Your case should serve as a warning for when you're dealing directly with a company: Make sure you're buying what you think you are. If you're unsure, work with a qualified travel agent, who can help you get exactly what you need. A travel pro would book your room through a reservation system, bypassing the labyrinth of telephone pitches.

If someone ever offers you a refund again, make sure you get it in writing: Holiday Inn's verbal promises weren't enough. A written promise is viewed as a debit memo by the dispute departments at some credit card companies. In other words, it's the equivalent of having money in the bank.

You also could have contacted someone higher up at the hotel. I list the names, numbers and email addresses of all the Holiday Inn executives on my consumer-advocacy website: elliott.org/company-contacts/intercontinental-hotels/.

I contacted Holiday Inn on your behalf, and it refunded your $199, as promised.

Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of "How to Be the World's Smartest Traveler." You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at chris@elliott.org.

How to get rid of a timeshare from a deceased parent

By Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin February 21 at 7:30 AM

We recently received a letter in response to one of our readers who wondered whether the timeshare owned by a parent would become the reader’s responsibility after the parent’s death. This is what this person wrote. (The letter has been edited for clarity and space.)

Q: You recently ran an article from a reader who wondered whether the timeshare owned by a parent would become the reader’s responsibility after the parent’s death. You said that the timeshare ownership could be rejected as an inheritance. I am not so sure that the article is entirely accurate and, at the very least, I think it is incomplete and misleading. The following is the basis of my opinion.

There is a principle in the law that guides the rules regarding property, and that principle is called “free alienation of land” (can be interpreted as real estate). What this means in general is that nothing should stand in the way of transfers of real estate. Therefore, the law is rather particular that there should always be ways to solve problems, and the ownership of land should always be able to be transferred. That is because land has historically always been viewed as a very valuable asset. In general, the rules (laws) governing timeshares come under the law of property and therefore real estate.

Though today many timeshare ownership schemes are points, floating weeks, etc., the original timeshare ownership was evidenced by a warranty deed. And many still are, even if that deed covered only one week’s usage of a three-room “condo-like” unit. And when the owner sold the timeshare, the owner signed a warranty deed granting the timeshare to the new owner.

What I have to say now may not apply to the newer “points-based,” “floating week” type of ownership because, to be honest, I don’t know much about how they work.

[More Matters: Try to work out the noise dispute with your condo neighbors before suing them]

What I do know is that if a deceased person owns a piece of “real estate” (including a timeshare) evidenced by a warranty deed, that “asset” of the deceased person’s estate has to be the subject of a probate case, just as any other piece of real estate that was owned by the deceased person would be the subject of a probate case. And, as such, if it is not transferred out of the deceased person’s probate estate to a named beneficiary, or an heir at law, by some mechanism, the probate case cannot close, and the personal representative (executor) of the estate will not be discharged from their duties by the court.

If the owner/managers of a timeshare resort has a third-party service that searches newspapers for creditor notices published as a part of pending probates, and the deceased timeshare owner is delinquent on annual maintenance fees, the timeshare resort — or the third-party service on the resort’s behalf — will file a creditor claim in the probate case. If the claim is not paid, and a satisfaction of claim is not filed in the probate case, again the probate will not close and the personal representative will not be discharged.

While the above is an abbreviated version of what why I believe the article is inaccurate and misleading, it should at least give all of you pause, because of the likely demographics of the readership in my area.

I will be back in touch if I am successful at honorably managing to assist my client in divesting themselves of their timeshare assets.

A: We thank you for your insightful information and appreciate your response. You may be right that in cases where timeshares go through probate, something must be done. However, many of our readers die, and their estates never go through probate.

[More Matters: Baffled by a home’s square footage? You ought to be because there are no uniform standards to count it.]

Let’s imagine, for example, a couple that owns a home, a car, a timeshare, some bank accounts and personal effects. Some of our readers end up owning their home and bank accounts jointly with their kids. When the parents die, the assets transfer to the kids, and the only asset left is the timeshare interest.

In these situations, where the timeshare is the only asset that remains and is unclaimed, the probate court would have no action to take. The timeshare resort is a creditor; and when the amounts owed are not paid, the timeshare resort can foreclose the interest of the deceased owner and resell the timeshare unit.

We think that the timeshare resort taking action against the timeshare unit is a more likely situation than using the timeshare resort’s status as creditor to open up probate proceedings, forcing the court to designate an administrator of the estate. We would think that the timeshare resort would have cheaper and better results trying to take over the timeshare interest rather than trying to collect from family members.

Having said that, we appreciate that you might be thinking that there is a difference between a timeshare interest in a resort in a tourist destination that sells for $5,000 versus a timeshare resort that sells with a national hotel company for $75,000 or more. When we get letters from our readers, they are not writing to us about the expensive timeshare resorts. While it may be hard to sell all timeshares, the larger and more expensive timeshares can sell, even if the owner takes a loss.

Again, thank you for your insight and detailed information.

Ilyce Glink‘s latest book “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask, 4th edition,” will be published in mid-February. She is also the CEO of “Best Money Moves,” an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact them through her website, ThinkGlink.com.

BLUEGREEN'S DEFAULT RATE EFFECTED BY ROGUE DISPOSAL FIRMS TACTICS

Rising default rates, the Bass Pro Shops tie-in: Five things to know about timeshare developer Bluegreen’s IPO

3:34 p.m Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017  

Bluegreen Vacation Corp., the Boca Raton-based timeshare company, plans to go public again. Five intriguing data points from its IPO filing:

Bluegreen targets middle America. Its resorts are concentrated in what it calls “drive-to” destinations such as Orlando, Myrtle Beach, S.C., Branson, Mo., and Wisconsin Dells. “We primarily serve a demographic underpenetrated within the vacation ownership industry, as the typical [Bluegreen] owner has an average annual household income of approximately $75,000 as compared to an industry average of $90,000,” the company says.

Bluegreen’s customers’ credit scores are a bit lower than average. Bluegreen said 51.9 percent of timeshare buyers who financed their vacation clubs in 2016 had FICO scores of 700 or higher. Among all U.S. consumers, 55.8 percent had FICO scores of 700 or higher as of April 2016, FICO says.

Default rates are on the rise. Bluegreen says default rates rose to 8 percent in mid-2017, up from 6.9 percent in 2015. The company offers this explanation: “Commencing in 2015, it came to our attention that our collection efforts with respect to our [vacation ownership] notes receivable were being impacted by a then emerging, industry-wide trend involving the receipt of ‘cease and desist’ letters from attorneys purporting to represent certain VOI owners. Following receipt of these letters, we are unable to contact the owners unless allowed by law. We believe these attorneys have encouraged such owners to become delinquent and ultimately default on their obligations and that such actions and our inability to contact the owners are a primary contributor to the increase in our annual default rates.”

Bass Pro Shops is a major source of business. Bluegreen runs kiosks in 68 Bass Pro Shops stores, and the fishing chain is responsible for fully 15 percent of Bluegreen’s timeshare sales. Bass Pro shoppers “strongly match our core customer demographic,” Bluegreen says.

Top execs make a nice chunk of change. Bluegreen disclosed pay for three executives. Chief Financial Officer Anthony Puleo made $3.9 million in 2016, former Vice President David Bidgood pulled down $4.3 million and Chief Operating Officer David Pontius made $4.2 million.

KING DAVID AND QUEEN JACKIE - HOW RICH ARE THEY NOW?

David and Jackie Siegel Net Worth – How Rich are the ‘King and Queen of Versailles’?

By Steve Dawson

Oct 6, 2017

David and Jackie Siegel gained Worldwide fame in the 2012 documentary ‘The Queen of Versailles’. The film offered viewers a glance into their incredible wealth, their plans for their new enormous home, and also showed the stresses and strains created by a crumbling multi-billion dollar business empire as the 2008 financial crisis took its toll. The documentary left viewers hanging, as the tumultuous roller-coaster ride that the Siegel’s were experiencing was never fully resolved by the end of the documentary. At one stage David Siegel was worth billions, yet in ‘The Queen of Versailles’ he was facing possible ruin and bankruptcy when the documentary ended, so how much is the King of Timeshares worth now in 2017? Read on to find out.

David and Jackie Siegel Net Worth 2017 – $940 Million

How Did David and Jackie Siegel Make Their Money & Wealth?

David Siegel came from an everyday working class Jewish family, His father Sid was a small business owner who ran a grocery in Chicago when David was born in May 1935. In 1945 the Siegel family moved to Miami where David grew up. He attended Miami Senior High School and later went to the University of Miami where he studied Management and Marketing, but surprisingly David dropped out before getting his degree.

David Siegel’s Early Business Ventures

David married for the first time in 1961. He and his first wife Geraldine had three children together but divorced in 1968. He married a second time in 1970 and moved to Orlando with new wife Betty. David, a natural entrepreneur, became involved in various business ventures and in 1970 he launched Central Florida Investments, Inc. (CFI), a real estate development business with his main office situated in his garage at home.

David invested heavily in real estate during the 1970’s, by the end of the decade he had become a millionaire and diversified his interests, he owned residential property, commercial offices and orange groves. In 1980 he was approached by a business contact who proposed forming a partnership to open a timeshare resort, using land that David owned.

The 16 Unit Westgate Villas was the first timeshare opened by David

David Siegel liked the idea, but didn’t see the need to go into partnership with anyone else. In 1982 he founded Westgate Resorts as a subsidiary of CFI and shortly after opened his first timeshare resort, the 16 unit Westgate Vacation Villas. The 1990’s were the golden age for timeshare businesses and David Siegel rode the crest of the wave of profitability that such companies enjoyed. Westgate Lakes resort & Spa opened in 1996 with Westgate Towers coming into operation the following year. 1999 saw two more Westgate resorts opening, Westgate Town Center and Westgate Smoky mountain Resort & spa, and the growth of Westgate’s assets only increased after that.

Jackie when she Won Mrs Florida America in 1993

Jackie Siegel was born on January 19th 1966 in Binghamton, New York. Fiercely intelligent she graduated in 1989 with a bachelor’s degree from the Rochester Institute of Technology in computer engineering, but Jackie was doubly blessed, not only was she smart, but she was also beautiful. In 1993 Jackie won the Mrs Florida Beauty pageant and for the next three years she forged a career with the organization, eventually producing the pageant until 1997. That same year David and his second wife Betty divorced, and the following year he met Jackie. It would be fair to say that David Siegel is an avid admirer of beautiful women, and Jackie’s combination of stunning looks with a razor-sharp brain soon saw them embark on a relationship. In 2000 they married in a Jewish ceremony, even though Jackie herself wasn’t actually Jewish.

Another six Westgate resorts opened in the next five years and the company’s portfolio expanded far beyond Florida. Now in 2017 Westgate has twenty eight resorts in eleven states, including the three largest timeshare resorts in the World. David Siegel had become the richest man in Florida with a personal fortune of at least $5 Billion in the early years of the millennium, and he had rightfully earned the title ‘The King of Timeshares’, but the good fortune he had enjoyed during his amazingly successful career came to an abrupt end with the advent of the 2008 financial crisis.

David and Jackie Siegel in ‘The Queen of Versailles’

The Queen of Versailles was a documentary, released in 2012, that gave ordinary people a rare chance to see the life of the super-rich. The focus of the film was the Siegel’s new home, a custom built mansion inspired by and resembling the Palace of Versailles in France, built by King Louis the fourteenth from 1661 to 1678. During the early years of David and Jackie’s marriage they had five children together, bringing David’s total number of children to 13, and their luxurious mansion in private grounds in Florida, near Orlando was soon too small for the ever growing Siegel clan.

David and Jackie with the rest of the Siegel clan in the 2012 documentary ‘The Queen of Versailles’

In 2004 construction began on the mansion, which would when finished be the largest single-family home in the United States boasting over 90,000 square feet of space, and a list of incredible facilities that we’ll come to later. The 2008 financial crisis threw a major spanner in the works, quite literally when it came to the building of the Siegel’s new home and in 2009 construction was cancelled as David Siegel faced a huge 80% drop in his personal wealth, and the potential to lose everything. ‘The Queen of Versailles’ caught the family as they were forced to economize for the first time, they let most of their servants go and Jackie told their kids that they might have to think about forming their own careers if things got any worse.

Other legal problems occurred during those difficult few years on top of the financial stresses David was already experiencing. In 2008 David was found to be liable in a sexual-harassment lawsuit against a former employee, he was ordered to pay over $5 million in damages. David was forced to down-scale his business operations to survive and laid off hundreds of employees, but in 2010 he was sued in a class-action case by 300 ex-sales agents for unpaid commissions. David Siegel lost the case and was ordered to pay half-a-million in compensation by the courts.

With the release of ‘The Queen of Versailles’ the Siegel’s filed a lawsuit against the film-makers of the documentary, claiming that the description of the film was defamatory. The courts ruled that David Siegel’s claims were ‘Inconsistent, incredible and lacking weight’, and decided that the lawsuit should be turned over to arbitaration by the Independent Film & Television Alliance (IFTA). In June 2013 the IFTA ruled against the Siegel’s, and they were ordered to pay $750,000 in legal costs to the makers of the documentary, Frank Evers and Lauren Greenfield. David also brought a second lawsuit against the film-makers, but once again the case was dismissed, in 2014.

David and Jackie Siegel’s Recovery from Financial Problems

Now in 2017, the financial stability of the Siegel family is once again restored, and even though David Siegel lost billions as a result of the 2008 financial crisis, he is set to become a billionaire once again within a matter of months. At one stage he was forced to put the Versailles House on the market for $65 Million, but by 2013 his business empire was back on stable ground and he still owns the house outright. Construction resumed that year and the house is expected to be fully completed and furnished sometime in 2018. With a probable appraisal of it’s value at over $110 million, the home will be the fourth most valuable property in the whole of America.

Westgate Resorts has continued to expand at a rapid rate, in 2014 construction began on Westgate Lakes Retail Village, an ambitious $11 million development in Orlando, and in February 2016 Westgate bought the Wild Bear Inn in Tennessee, the closest hotel to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. That latest property was extensively damaged in a fire later in 2016, but with a profit line securly back in the black, rebuilding began almost immediately and the property is now back to it’s former glory. David Siegel’s business accomplishments have received some personal recognition too, in 2014 he won the CEO of the Year award from the Orlando Business Association

David and Jackie Siegel Personal Life & FAQ’s

When did David and Jackie Siegel get married?

Tragedy struck in 2015 when daughter Victoria died of a drug overdose

David and Jackie married in January 2000 in a lavish ceremony attended by 450 guests. Of course, with such a large amount of luxurious venues at his disposal, David didn’t have to splash out any extra cash on a venue. The pair were married at the Westgate Lakes Resort in Orlando, and Jackie proudly showed off her wedding ring, which the Orlando Sentinel described as ‘A rock big enough for the pilgrims to land on’. The couple honeymooned at another Westgate resort, the Papillion Spa before moving on to the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas. Jackie already had an adopted daughter Jonquil, and a daughter from a previous relationship, Victoria, born in 1996. David adopted both of Jackie’s daughters and the couple went on to have six children of their own. Tragedy struck in 2015 when Victoria was found comatose at the family home in Windermere and was pronounced dead after being taken to hospital. Victoria, who was just 18 when she died was later found to have died from a drug overdose, which has led to her parents advocating publicly against substance abuse.

What Were David and Jackie Siegel’s Annual Earnings in 2017?

Westgate Resorts is now profitable once again, and highly likely to earn hundreds of millions in profits annually as long as no other major hiccups occur. David Siegel’s immense wealth allowed him to weather the storm that the 2008 financial crisis brought, but for a while at least it seemed that his massive business empire could well come crashing down leaving him with nothing. David is involved in a multitude of other business ventures, more than could be listed, but perhaps most notably, he founded the ‘Mystery Fun House’ in Orlando, Florida in 1976. It eventually expanded to include arcades, a mini golf course – with a dinosaur theme, and other facilities, including a laser-tag attraction. The Mystery Fun House was operated until 2001, and the following year David funded and produced the movie ‘Night Terror’, starring Al Lewis of Munsters fame, as well as wife Jackie.

What Facilities Does the Versailles House Have?

When the Siegel tribe finally make their long-awaited move into the Siegel House they will enjoy the incredible luxury of fourteen bedrooms, thirty two bathrooms, and even eleven kitchens. The mansion, which sits on an artificially constructed hilltop in 10 acres of landscaped lakefront grounds, will also include three indoor heated pools with another two outside, a ballroom with capacity for 1,000 people, a two-story theater, and a video arcade. Just in case the family want some exercise after all that luxury, the property also includes two tennis courts, an indoor roller rink,a baseball diamond, a yoga studio and a fitness center with a spa larger than some homes, at over 10,000 square feet.

The Versailles Home, A monument to bad taste or a luxurious palace of splendour?

The Exterior walls of the Versailles house have been veneered with Pavonazzo marble, at a cost of over $7 million and the doors and windows of the main building have been made using some of the last Brazilian mahogany in the World at incredible cost. The main entryway features a 30 foot stained-glass dome and even the ten staff will be able to enjoy their own personal jacuzzis and kitchens in their private quarters. Incredibly flamboyant and undoubtedly expensive it may be, but some people are less than impressed with the Versailles House and it’s appearance. The lifestyle news site Mother Nature Network called it a ‘Wretched Excess’ and other critics have labelled it ‘Absurd’, ‘Excessive’ and ‘Gaudy’. The news site ThinkProgrss were perhaps most effusive in their criticism, they called it ‘A testament to waste’ and ‘A monument to bad taste’.

David and Jackie Siegel’s Charity Work, Donations and Philanthropy

David and Jackie Siegel have contributed and advocated for many good causes and charitable institutions. They have been outspoken on the subject of substance abuse since the death of daughter Victoria in 2015 and founded a foundation in Victoria’s name after her death. The Siegel’s also founded the Westgate Resorts Foundation which annually awards grants to a wide range of non profit organizations that help veterans, the homeless, children in need and domestic violence survivors, as well as a range of other needy causes. In 2016 the Westgate Resorts Foundation awarded well over $1 million to over 70 charitable organizations. Jackie continues to help promote the Mrs Florida pageant, as well as working in her role as the co-owner of Travelhost Orlando magazine. She has added to her acting credits with parts in ‘Terminator 3’ and ‘The Caretaker’ and also supports the Special Olympics Florida, the Orlando Ballet and The Mennello Museum of American Art.

DIAMOND GOES LOOKING FOR JUSTICE ?

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/brinkmann-on-business/os-bz-diamond-resorts-allan-campbell-20171013-story.html

Diamond Resorts International, a Las Vegas-based timeshare company with resorts in Orlando, is pursuing legal action against two Orlando businessmen who are involved in timeshare cancellation.

It’s part of bevy of lawsuits file by timeshare companies this year against attorneys and businesses who offer to handle cancelling a timeshare contract for consumers

Diamond’s latest lawsuit targets Lake Mary attorney Allan Campbell and businessman William W. Howell Jr., along with companies they are involved with such as Orlando Ventures Inc., Helping Timeshare Owners Inc., Allan Campbell Attorney at Law LLC, which is also known as Best Defense Law Team.

Diamond also has sued Longwood attorney Austin Aaronson, accusing him in court documents of racketeering, which he denies.

Over the past month, four timeshare companies have filed multiple lawsuits against several timeshare cancellation firms, including three suits against the Tennessee firm of Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips, the Castle Law Group.

In Diamond’s lawsuit against Campbell, the resort company accuses Campbell of luring customers away from Diamond, disparaging the Diamond brand, making false statements and damaging Diamond financially.

An online forum for timeshare owners, the Timeshare Users Group, has seen messages about timeshare cancellation, said Brian Rogers, administrator of the site. He warns people to stay away from cancellation services.

Rogers previously told the Sentinel, “This industry is masterful at coming up with ways to part owners from money by misleading or outright lying to them.”

The lawsuits allege illegal tactics by the attorneys and related marketing firms, who are accused of charging big fees to offer “guarantees” they will get you out of your timeshare. The cancellation companies are also called “third-party exit” firms or TPE’s.

The timeshare companies say a growing number of cancellation attorneys – including Campbell – aren’t doing anything for their clients — except maybe writing a letter to the timeshare firm, and then urging owners to stop making payments on their timeshare, which can put them in credit default.

I’m a newspaper reporter looking for business news: pbrinkmann@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5660; Twitter is @PaulBrinkmann

 

 

The Unconscionable Suppression of the Timeshare Resale Market

FINN LAW GROUP

  • Consider this scenario... 

Not long ago, I was stopped at a red light in my four year old, four-door sedan, when a sporty convertible pulled up alongside me, and stopped for the light. Envious, I imagined myself at the wheel of the convertible, and as I pulled away on the green, I began to plot. "As an empty nester,” I rationalized, "there's no reason I can't have a new convertible. My wife has an SUV, why do I need four doors?"

I promptly drove over to the dealership where I had bought my sedan four years ago, and got a decent trade-in offer towards a new convertible.

Not completely satisfied with the price offer, I stopped at another dealer who bought cars outright without a trade-in and learned about the Kelley Blue Book, which has been publishing the value of all vehicles since 1926. Utilizing my new expertise, I advertised my sedan online and in the local paper, and sold it to a private buyer for an even better price than I had been quoted at the dealership.

While driving off in my sporty new convertible I began to think about my fully paid for three-bedroom "lockout" timeshare interest my wife and I had owned for years. Now that just the two of us vacationed together, I thought that we could downsize into a one-bedroom unit, which would save some money on maintenance fees, and, using the trade-in value of the timeshare, maybe even allow me to make some money.

What a shock I received at the resort. Not only couldn't I do a like for like trade of my three-bedroom lockout for a smaller unit, they said I would be lucky to get a $5,000 trade in allowance on a $23,000 one bedroom unit. When I told them to just cash me out of the existing timeshare, they told me they didn't take units back. When I asked them how I could walk away from my unit, they referred me to an outside non-affiliated "reseller" who wanted an upfront fee to help me sell my unit.

When I did my due diligence and checked this company out, I learned it was not even owned or operated by licensed real estate brokers, but former timeshare salesmen. Thinking that my timeshare was deeded real estate, I then searched for a licensed real estate broker who handled timeshares and who would only charge me a commission upon the sale of the timeshare (as in all real estate transactions). I quickly learned that no "MLS" (centralized listing program) exists for timeshares, as exists with homes, and also discovered that only a handful of licensed real estate brokers in the entire country deal in timeshares. I finally located one who was out of state who told me he'd try to sell my unit - but after his commission, I'd be lucky to break even!

How, I asked myself, did I have no problem getting about 55% of the purchase price of my four year old car back, but can't get anything for a three-bedroom, paid-off timeshare that had been recently remodeled?

So what’s the difference between a used car and a used timeshare? Value. 

Although my illustration is fictional, the facts presented herein are accurate. The purpose of this illustration is to analyze how a continuously maintained large timeshare unit in a nice resort did not retain its "value" when a four year old sedan with over 50,000 miles on it could be easily resold in the secondary vehicle market with a recovery of over half of its original cost. Although the car and the timeshare are not comparable in all respects, there are some valid points of comparison;

  • The two products cost about the same
  • They are both consumer "discretionary income" products (the vehicle being less so, as “basic transportation” may be considered a little more of a necessity)

One would, all things being equal, anticipate a moderate to healthy aftermarket value for each. Why then the cavernous disparity in value between the two? There are relatively healthy secondary markets for many consumer products and next to none for timeshares.

The principal reason that I've been able to discover that accounts for this major disparity, is the difference in behavior of the product manufacturers and original distributors as compared to the conduct of many, if not most, timeshare developers. To go back to our vehicle comparison, nearly every new car dealership you'll encounter has, immediately adjacent to its new car showroom and lot, a used car facility of comparable quality and presentation. Independent used car-only dealerships have close relationships with vehicle auction houses as well as other used car lots. Comparable side channel relationships also exist in the boat and camper industries.

Compare that if you will, to the timeshare industry's tightfisted control of their markets, where no viable secondary market is permitted to exist, let alone thrive or prosper, and you begin to understand the complexity of the issue.

How anti-resale is the timeshare industry?

To obtain the facts to support this argument, I had only to go directly to the source, the presented statements of the timeshare developers themselves.

Specifically, each and every one of the timeshare developers who file documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission to support their public filing requirements have included language in each of their filings that specifically addresses the secondary resale market as a threat to their bottom line. I'm not in any manner exaggerating or embellishing the characterization of these statements. To borrow a direct quote from Bluegreen’s SEC filing, "The resale market for VOIs [vacation ownership interest] could adversely affect our business" is the title line to a paragraph within their filing.

Similar incendiary, anti-secondary market language is found throughout the filings for other resort developers, as well. (We can supply the relevant SEC web pages upon request). It is amply clear that these developers, in their own words and in their own public filings, all express open antagonism to the very existence of a secondary timeshare resale market!

In summary, these developer resort SEC filings conclusively establish that even simply stepping out of the resale channel and permitting other market forces to come in to help stabilize the resale timeshare marketplace without interference from the developers is not an option to be considered, clearly because of the perceived threat to their bottom line.

What are the long term effect of this stifled resale market?

Is the resort development industry’s reasoning justified? After all, if a reseller is selling the identical product at a price that is considerably below what the developer is charging, that actually isn't good for the developer's bottom line, correct?

If at first blush the position seems justifiable, it is nothing if not terribly short sighted.

Starving the resale market may initially be good for the bottom line but at what long term cost? For example, what about the developer’s loyal timeshare buyer's longer term economic health? At some point, that loyal owner is going to be facing an issue probably not even contemplated during the initial timeshare acquisition process. That buyer will, over some period of time, some sooner than others, get laid off or lose their job, get divorced or otherwise lose their spouse, become sickly or disabled, or die. What happens next in the absence of a structured secondary resale market?

What if that triggering event happens sooner rather than later and there is still a significant mortgage balance due to the developer? What if, balance or not, the developer refuses to take back the interest, leaving ongoing and rising maintenance fees running? Legally that owner remains personally liable for those fees, despite the fact that they purchased the timeshare at full retail cost and supported the resort as long as they could afford to. What position does the resort take when confronted with that issue?

How about the fact that the resort personnel often will then recommend the services of a so called “resale company” who will, more often than not, require an upfront fee to "list" the interest on a website where no one can accurately determine who will see it?

Do we now add to our list of developer sins a complete absence of appropriate social (if not legal) responsibility to our accusation of shortsightedness? Whether or not the industry will admit even just standing by passively and knowingly allowing its commissioned salesmen to infuse value into the purchase, there can be no denying that the assumption purchasers instinctively make at time of purchase is that being a real estate based product, their interest will, over time, tend to hold its value, if not outright increase!

Timeshare industry, your position is not only short sighted and socially irresponsible, it's not sustainable! Those of us who occupy the timeshare sector of the economy alongside of the developers are keenly aware that the industry itself, through ARDA, its trade organization, knows that the industry must make consumer friendly changes to its marketing practices to ensure its long term survival, but somehow this tiny shrill voice gets swept aside and lost as industry profits and sales continue to rise. “Hey, nothing's broken, so what’s the hurry trying to fix this?”

A strong resale market will strengthen the industry

I would argue that there is no better time than now to make the important and essential changes that might, in the short term, slow down profitability, but in the long term, turn the timeshare industry into a more socially responsible and far more sustainable industry for decades to come.

Instead of shunning the secondary market, embrace it; invest some of your profits into stabilizing the resale market. Take the lesson the auto, boat and camper industries learned long ago, that a healthy resale market is essential to the entire industry, that from beginning to end there must be a continuous flow, a circle of economic life, if you will.

If you can't set up a used timeshare lot across the street from your project, at least sponsor knowledgeable licensed real estate brokers well offsite so as not to compete directly with your retail operations. Sure, you'll lose some initial business to these brokers, but by indirectly supporting them, you'll make timeshare interests affordable to the folks who really can't afford to buy retail, but can perhaps afford to repurchase the interest of your newly divorced initial purchaser (something that you arguably owed the poor guy anyway). More importantly perhaps, you will be able to support the continuing financial health of the resort via the annual maintenance payments now to be made by the new owner, and ever crucial to the future of the resort you built and developed.

Timeshare developers should take a hard look at themselves and their industry. Take pride, not just profit, from making family vacations an affordable part of the American lifestyle by opening up that opportunity to even more folks.

- Michael D. Finn, Esq.

TIMESHARE COMPANIES DECLARE WAR ON CANCELLATION FIRMS

Timeshare companies declare war on cancellation firms

Raleigh-Durham area resident Alicia Alston has a tale of woe about a recent timeshare contract she and her family members signed May 20 — and want out of. They chased an offer of free tickets to an aquarium when vacationing in Myrtle Beach recently. They wound up at a sales center for Wyndham Vacation Ownership timeshare properties. Alston, 32, is desperate to cancel. But she’s also worried about people offering to help her cancel it — some of whom want additional money up front. And she is not alone.

Several timeshare companies have declared war on attorneys and businesses that advertise timeshare cancellation services.

Over the past month, four timeshare companies have filed multiple lawsuits against several timeshare cancellation firms, including three suits against the Tennessee firm of Tea Party Nation founder Judson Phillips, the Castle Law Group.

Backlash against cancellation firms also reflects ill will toward aggressive sales tactics, which means remorse after some timeshare contracts are signed, timeshare industry observers said.

“We kept explaining to them, mom’s on disability, I only make $13 an hour. But they kept saying we could do this, and offering lower payments,” Alston said. She has called Wyndham repeatedly, but they have refused to cancel the contract. Alston admits that she only requested the cancellation after the contract’s rescission period expired.

An online forum for timeshare owners, the Timeshare Users Group, has seen messages about timeshare cancellation, said Brian Rogers, administrator of the site. He warns people to stay away from cancellation services.

“This industry is masterful at coming up with ways to part owners from money by misleading or outright lying to them,” Rogers said.

Las Vegas-based Diamond Resorts International has sued Longwood attorney Austin Aaronson, accusing him in court documents of racketeering, which he denies. Orlando-based Westgate Resorts has sued Castle Law and a California lawyer, Mitchell Reed Sussman, seeking an injunction barring Sussman from “interfering” with Westgate’s business relationships with timeshare owners.

Even Welk Resorts, named after entertainer Lawrence Welk, filed a lawsuit recently against Seattle-area company Reed Hein & Associates, also known as the Timeshare Exit Team. Reed Hein says it is not a law firm; its website is endorsed by the Steve Harvey Morning Show and by the Dave Ramsey Show. The Welk lawsuit accuses Reed Hein of charging clients $5,000 up front to cancel a timeshare contract.

“The timeshare-relief companies and lawyers are a pervasive problem affecting the entire timeshare industry, not just Westgate,” said Kate Saft, an Orlando attorney who represents Westgate. “There have been several lawsuits filed in the past few weeks by a multitude of timeshare developers.”

The lawsuits allege illegal tactics by the attorneys and related marketing firms, who are accused of charging big fees to offer “guarantees” they will get you out of your timeshare. The cancellation companies are also called “third-party exit” firms or TPE’s.

The timeshare companies say a growing number of cancellation attorneys aren’t doing anything for their clients — except maybe writing a letter to the timeshare firm, and then urging owners to stop making payments on their timeshare, which can put them in credit default.

“I think the timeshare companies believe there’s strength in numbers, and they’re all kind of attacking all at once,” said Laura Blevins, who used to work for the Castle firm.

Aaronson said in an email that he views Diamond’s lawsuit as retribution because he’s challenged their sales tactics and contracts. “These are scorched-earth tactics ... in a brazen attempt to embarrass, humiliate, and ruin the opposition financially,” he said.

Diamond Resorts is asking a federal judge in Tennessee to appoint a receiver to take control of Castle Law and several related companies.

“The lawsuit is part of an ongoing effort by Diamond to arrest the behavior of timeshare TPE’s that plague the industry by preying on unsuspecting timeshare owners,” Diamond said in a statement. “The TPEs target and manipulate timeshare owners by soliciting services in exchange for excessive fees.”

Rogers said there’s a major issue that most TPE’s never address, and that is the money that is often borrowed for a down payment on a timeshare.

“Generally these loans/mortgages are granted by third-party lenders, and have little to do with the timeshare ownership itself,” Rogers said. “They don’t care if you send them a notice saying you want to cancel your timeshare. They are generally covered in the contract language.”

In an interview, Alston claims she never agreed to a charge of $4,000 that appeared on a PayPal account for their timeshare contract.

“We gave them our information only to check our credit, not to charge us $4,000,” she said. Wyndham didn’t immediately comment when asked about Alston’s case.

A few other Orlando-based companies haven’t weighed in with their own lawsuits yet, such as Wyndham Vacation Ownership and Marriott Vacations Worldwide.

Federal court records show that Wyndham recently reached a proposed settlement with a client represented by Castle Law over a timeshare cancellation lawsuit in Nashville.

Got a news tip? pbrinkmann@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5660; Twitter, @PaulBrinkmann

Law Firm Defrauded Timeshare Owners To Win Business: Suit

By Joyce Hanson

Law360, New York (June 9, 2017, 8:57 PM EDT) -- A country club and timeshare seller on Thursday sued a Nashville law firm in Florida federal court, alleging that it purports to represent timeshare owners who claim to have been victimized by timeshare fraud but is instead fooling the owners into paying for legal services that it doesn’t deliver. 
Kissimmee, Florida-based Orange Lake Country Club Inc.’s suit against Castle Law Group PC along with its affiliates, lawyers and executives says the defendants masterminded a scheme to solicit timeshare owners using false and misleading advertising with the intent of using their ”timeshare advocate” businesses to interfere with Orange Lake’s contracts and relationships with owners.

The scheme allegedly involves executives William M. Keever and Sean Austin, who under the guise of capital investment firm Castle Venture Group LLC give funds to Castle Marketing Group LLC to fraudulently solicit business for attorney Judson Phillips of Castle Law Group, which is owned by Keever, according to Orange Lake’s complaint. Phillips, a former Shelby County, Tennessee, assistant district attorney, is best known as the founder of the for-profit corporation Tea Party Nation, which organized the first national Tea Party convention in February 2010.

Another company named in the suit, Resort Relief LLC of Conroe, Texas, which is run by executive Kevin Hanson but owned by Austin, induces timeshare owners via fraudulent and deceptive advertising as well as direct phone calls to retain Castle Law’s services, the lawsuit said. Once the owners get in touch with Castle Law, the firm’s nonattorney employees convince them to default on the promissory notes and mortgages they have signed with Orange Lake in order to buy their timeshare interests, the suit said.

Castle’s advertisements claim, “The lawyers and legal support staff will handle your case from start to finish, leaving you to enjoy your life and stop stressing about your timeshare,” according to the complaint. “Timeshare attorneys can negotiate a full and final settlement agreement that completely cancels your timeshare contract and timeshare debt.”

Orange Lake employs 3,000 people to develop, finance and manage timeshare properties at 13 resorts around the United States, totaling about 3,395 individual timeshare units for 100,000 owners, according to the complaint.

In early 2015, Keever, Judson and Austin incorporated Castle Marketing, Castle Venture and Castle Law to solicit timeshare owners using false advertising “with the purpose of tortious interference with Orange Lake’s existing contracts and advantageous business relationships with its owners,” the complaint said.

To entice Orange Lake owners to sign retainers with Castle Law, nonattorney employees tell potential clients the pros and cons of continuing payment to the timeshare company that ends up encouraging the owners to stop making payments under the terms of their purchase agreements, the suit said.

In addition, the Castle defendants are aware that many owners can’t afford to cancel their minimum $40,000 contracts, so they encourage them to make false statements and allegations against Orange Lake to get out of the contracts, according to the suit. At the same time, the defendants convince owners that they are legally representing them for a $7,500 retainer fee even though the defendants know the timeshare contracts have been made in good faith and are unlikely to be canceled, the suit said.

“In many instances, after the one-year or 18-month guaranty time period expired, Castle Law would inform clients that their timeshare contracts have been rescinded and that Castle Law was waiting for paperwork from the developer to finalize the matter,” the suit said. “This was not the case. Castle Law was largely unsuccessful in its efforts to get the developers to cancel the contracts.”

The suit, which cites violations of the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act, demands a temporary and a permanent injunction against the Castle defendants for false advertising and contacting Orange Lake’s clients along with an award of costs and attorneys’ fees.

Representatives for Orange Lake Country Club and Castle Law did not immediately respond Friday to requests for comment.

Orange Lake Country Club is represented by Jeffrey A. Backman, Richard W. Epstein and Thu Pham of Greenspoon Marder PA.

Legal counsel information for Castle Law was not available.

Westgate accuses Tea Party leader of timeshare cancellation fraud

Timeshare companies filed federal lawsuit against Castle Law Group.

Paul BrinkmannContact ReporterOrlando Sentinel

Privacy Policy

Westgate Resorts and other timeshare firms have filed federal lawsuits accusing Judson Phillips, a Tennessee attorney and founder of Tea Party Nation, of orchestrating a nationwide timeshare cancellation fraud scheme along with several other businessmen.

Phillips is senior partner of Castle Law Group, based near Nashville. Two lawsuits accuse the law firm and a related company, Castle Marketing, of interfering with clients and contracts at Westgate’s many resorts, and at Orange Lake Country Club.

According to both lawsuits, Castle obtained lists of timeshare owners around the nation and blanketed them with pitches to cancel their timeshare. Some of the clients were charged a $7,500 litigation fee, up front.

According to the Orange Lake lawsuit, no lawsuits were ever filed on behalf of any of its timeshare owners by Castle or related companies.

The Westgate suit says “lawsuits were never filed for some of these clients.”

Some timeshare owners’ groups estimate thousands of owners have been roped into fraudulent contracts.

The timeshares may not be canceled, but timeshare owners often stop making payments, which cuts into timeshare company revenue. The Westgate lawsuit has an attachment of about 100 known owners who received letters from Castle or related advocacy groups and stopped making payments.

Phillips said in an email he hasn’t been officially served with the lawsuit.

“Based on what I know about the lawsuit, it is completely frivolous,” Phillips wrote in the emails… “We have a lot of clients we have obtained results for.”

Both lawsuits accused Castle Law Group of using the marketing firms to say that it could “guarantee timeshare owners relief of their timeshare obligations within one year or eighteen months.” The Florida Bar prohibits attorneys in Florida from advertising guaranteed outcomes.

The lawsuits also name Phillips and several businessmen as defendants: Sean Austin, head of Castle Marketing; and Kevin Hanson and Michael Keever, also associated with marketing companies for Castle Law Group.

Phillips is also accused of putting the Florida Bar Board Certified logo on the Castle Law website, under his bio, even though he is not licensed to practice law in Florida, according to the suit.

The lawsuit has an exhibit attached that shows the logo under Phillips bio, but the current website online doesn’t show the logo.

“We have either had a Florida attorney in our office or associated Florida counsel,” Phillips said in an email.

Greg Crist, executive director of the National Timeshare Owners Assocation, said advocacy groups are actually the ones making contact with owners, and they are the ones who sign initial contracts with owners.

A man who answered the phone number on Castle Law Group’s website quickly acknowledged that he doesn’t work for the firm, that he’s just a consultant

Wyndham Sued For Alleged Financial Fraud Against Senior Citizens By Law Firm Of Aubrey Givens & Associates

Elderly allegedly suffer financial abuse by the hundreds

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE (PRWEB) JUNE 01, 2017

A Nashville law firm has filed several lawsuits in Tennessee alleging fraud, breach of contract, and violations of the Tennessee Timeshare Act against Wyndham Vacation Ownership, Inc., the world’s largest timeshare company.

Attorneys Aubrey Givens and Kristin Fecteau have seven lawsuits pending in State and Federal Court in Tennessee, alleging widespread abuse and consumer fraud by Wyndham and its subsidiaries.

Givens said, “We have over 285 senior citizens who are our clients who are alleging financial fraud.”

According to Complaints filed with the court the plaintiffs allege they are victims of fraud, deceptive trade practices, and were not advised of their right to rescind the deal until it went into effect. The allegations say that Wyndham sales people intentionally deceived, misled, and financially injured people who were buying Wyndham timeshares, especially targeting the elderly. Wyndham’s advertising states that in order to attend their sales presentation, prospective buyers must have a minimum annual household income of $60,000. However, there is no such qualification if someone is 55 or older or is fully retired.

The court documents allege that Wyndham engages in all kinds of deceptive tactics, such as selling timeshare points at hugely inflated prices, and failing to go over the information required when closing a real estate transaction as mandated by the Truth In Lending Act.

The lawsuits filed with the court also claim that Wyndham does not disclose that timeshare points are an illiquid asset with no aftermarket, making it difficult if not impossible for people to resell their Wyndham timeshares.

Other allegations included in the court documents state that during the sales process, Wyndham sales agents make numerous intentional or negligent misrepresentations designed by Wyndham to create a false sense of urgency, further pressuring owners to purchase new or additional timeshares.

Additionally, the court documents allege that Wyndham sales agents are intentionally verbally telling people things that are untrue, only to have them sign voluminous, fine-print documents that directly contradict the representations made to them during the sales presentation.

Fecteau said, “If we can make timeshare owners aware of their rights, we can let them know that they have an advocate who will look at their contracts and advise them of their options.”

The four lawsuits pending in Federal Court can be viewed by logging onto PACER, which is the Federal Court online access system.

The Federal cases are: Devine v. Wyndham Worldwide Operations, Inc., et. al, United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, #3:16-cv-02757

Hogle v. Wyndham Worldwide Operations, Inc., et. al, United States District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, #3:16-cv-02931

Coggins, et. al v. Wyndham Worldwide Operations, Inc., et. al, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, #3:16-cv-316

Sanford v. Wyndham Worldwide Operations, Inc., et. al, United States District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee, #3:17-CV-00036

Two other lawsuits are pending in Chancery Court in Sevier County, Tennessee: Oswald v. Wyndham Worldwide, et al, case #16-11-358, and Urban v. Wyndham Worldwide Operations, Inc., et al., Case # 17-4-121.

One case is pending in Chancery Court in Davidson County, Tennessee: Little v. Wyndham Worldwide Operations, Inc., # 16-1096-I.

The lawsuits filed in these cases can also be viewed at: 
https://www.givenslawfirm.com/lawsuits-filed-against-wyndham

Hilton Grand Vacations Due For Grand Reality Check

May. 15, 2017 2:54 PM •

HGV Summary Analysts upgrading HGV are not considering the 'dark side' of this industry.

Potential liabilities can spring up anytime that can change this tune.

Angry customers complain, which can soon become lawsuits, with deleterious consequences.

There's no dispute that Hilton Grand Vacations Inc (NYSE:HGV) has been doing well over the past few weeks. But, and it's a big but, most of this buying has been fueled by analyst reports, such as this one:

 

Nomura reiterated their buy rating on shares of Hilton Grand Vacations Inc in a research note published on Friday morning. The brokerage currently has a $43.00 price target on the stock.

 

We all know how this goes; a huge Wall St. bank has to unload a fund position so they ask their buddies in the analysis department to publish a buy or hold rating on the issue which they know will be good for a few points. Of course it doesn't always happen that way, but the conflict and potential for conflicts should not be ignored by investors. Many investors already don't pay attention to what the analysts say, or else Seeking Alpha wouldn't be so popular!

 

First let's look at the price over the past near term:

It's clearly been on a bull run; but based on what? Well, according to an article recently published right here at Seeking Alpha, the numbers look pretty good:

HGV's total number of "club" members stands at approximately 270,000 which is up 8% from the 250,000 members reported for 2015. This increase in club members would seem to indicate continued growth of new owners and less reliance upon sales to existing owners, an issue facing the industry. This growth can also translate into higher revenues in the larger profit margin, fee based transactions of the Club Management and Resort Operations segment.

 

As for the financial results, total timeshare revenue was up $82 million or 6.3% to $1,390 million, for the year, but behind the $137 million or 11.7% increase between 2015 and 2014. This year over year decrease in growth appears to be due to the continued implementation of their "Fee-for-Service" or sales commission based inventory sourcing model, which ultimately drives lower top line revenue while trying to preserve the same bottom line profit margins. This is clearly evident in the decline in growth of Timeshare Sales.

 

For 2016, Timeshare Sales grew only 4.0% compared to 13.6% for 2015, but HGV saw strong year over year growth in both Resort Operations at 15.0% and Financing and Other at 9.2%.

 

Overall Timeshare expense was $948 million for 2016, up 5.7% year over year, but showed declines in growth from 2015 to 2016 with Timeshare sales expense showing a significant drop of 14.2 percentage points. Because of this, adjusted EBITDA, was $381 million, up $29 million or 8.2% for the year and ahead of the $15 million or 4.5% increase between 2015 and 2014.

But these are numbers from the past, and it doesn't capture what's really going on in the timeshare industry. Just Google 'timeshare' and look the news that pops up. You'll see things like "7 ON YOUR SIDE UNCOVERS THE SMART WAY TO BREAK AWAY FROM YOUR TIMESHARE":

 

Owning a timeshare can take you around the world. But disowning your timeshare can get you a giant runaround. "Frustration. Goose egg. Attitude," said Orlando Brooks of D.C."Bills in the mail," said his wife Deborah.

The Brooks have enjoyed their four timeshares over the years. Yes, four! The Mihms of Ashburn have one timeshare in Virginia Beach, but now that they are in their late 80s, they don't want to travel much anymore. "In the old days, we fell for everything," said Jan Mihm, a petite woman with a sweet giggle. The Brooks are afraid, they still do. On their last trip, yet another timeshare salesman lured them away from the resort where they were staying, and wowed them with his stunning retreat. The salesman wined and dined them, drove them around, seemed to befriend them, and then offered a deal they couldn't refuse.

Words like 'lured' are not inspiring when describing a robust business model. In the growth numbers referenced by the Seeking Alpha article, how many of these new customers were 'lured' into timeshares by tricks and other means, and how many really wanted to just buy a timeshare?

 

For those who don't know - a timeshare is when you buy a slot of 'time' (usually one week) at a particular resort, at a high cost. How much do they really cost? According to industry sources:

Large timeshare sellers are reluctant to be upfront about cost. The American Resort Development Association (ARDA), a trade group for timeshare companies, said in 2012 that the average cost of a timeshare is around $19,000, with an annual maintenance fee of $660.

 

But the bad news; timeshares are obligations, not investments. They are the opposite of the gift that keeps on giving, they are the perpetual obligation that finally will be passed on to your heirs. Yes, that's right – timeshares will be passed on to your children. And more bad news - it isn't always possible, to just 'get out' or 'sell' your timeshare (contrary to what the salespeople will tell you).

We outlined some of these issues generally in a recent article "Are Timeshare Stocks A Ticking Timebomb" and it seemingly went unnoticed.

 

The point is that it would be possible to write a thousand page article outlining the fraud and various unscrupulous practices involved in this industry, including but not limited to serious potential anti-trust violations, securities act violations, and fraud.

 

Hilton Grand Vacations Inc is clearly not the 'worst' timeshare company out there, and by having the Hilton brand (NYSE:HLT) attached to them, it seems they have a certain panache that the others don't. But at the end of the day it's still a timeshare. On Wall St. they say 'you can't put lipstick on a pig' and it's no more appropriate than here.

 

But is Hilton Grand Vacations Inc really any different than any of the other timeshare companies out there?

See this from consumer reports:

Misleading marketing department. I purchased a 4 day 3 night with Hilton Grand resorts and each time I tried to use it there were never any accommodations. Finally, I realized this wasn't going to work and requested a refund. Hilton refused to give me my money back stating my time had expired. if I wanted to reinstate it. I could pay an additional 30 dollars to reinstate it and use it within three months.

 

And a customer so angry, he decided to open his own blog and write about the problems:

 

In most cases where business is conducted by knowingly using false information, the transaction is considered illegal. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) utilizes the Federal Program Fraud Civil Remedies Act of 1986 to remedy issues in case of false claims. Over all, we will lose around $10,000.00 plus lots of time lost because of this fraudulent scam. Furthermore, in the complaint forum quoted below, one of Hilton's former employees (Mike of Orlando, FL) agrees that they lie in order to make a sale. But because of the clause in their contract, it doesn't appear that you can do much about it if you got caught up in this scam. Attorneys agree that the clause in the contract is not ethical. And they tell us it will cost more money to go to court than the timeshare is worth. This is scary considering the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act clearly condemns the behavior we are experiencing with the Hiltons.

 

In the real estate business, misrepresentation and lies of this kind are considered fraudulent. Furthermore, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development is actively utilizing Fraud Civil Remedies Act of 1986 to protect themselves from fraud having to do with false claims. You may find this information by searching "Fraud Civil Remedies Act of 1986" or at this link: < gao.gov/assets/590/587978.pdf >.

 

While we are civilians, the Hilton is bound to perform under the laws of federal housing agencies; thus the Hilton may have committed fraud against the government of the federal housing agencies by utilizing an agent that broke the fiduciary requirements as a real estate agent of the Hilton. Because this is a fraudulent transaction, the Hilton could also be deemed to have committed a crime against the Federal Housing Finance Agency's regulations as banks and lending institutions are required to follow certain regulations for financing purposes.

 

If you are not in a position to lose thousands of dollars, then you will want to avoid purchasing a timeshare from Hilton. The timeshare presentation situation that they give in exchange for a cheap vacation is a serious attempt to scam you.

 

The fact is, one doesn't need to dig deep to see the complaints, problems, and frustrated customers who have no way out of their perpetual obligations to pay for something they may or may not actually use (in many cases, cannot use). For example you wouldn't find such complaints against a company like Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) or Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL); or to be fair too.

 

The fact is that the timeshare 'industry' is based on a model which has slipped through the cracks of time, under the noses of various regulators. But that doesn't mean it will always stay there. All it takes is one big whistleblower.

 

Obviously, that hasn't happened yet to Hilton Grand Vacations Inc , but that doesn't mean it won't. Logically, just because it hasn't happened is not a guarantee that it never will happen. The risk is there, the issues linger - and will continue to do so.

 

Another point; if all the customers who were 'lured' into their timeshares were simply refunded (for example, due to a class action lawsuit) would the model continue to be profitable?

 

 

Current cases are often not public, so let's take a look at just a few of the lawsuits/charges against in the past few years.

 

For example, see this $17 Million whopper due to aggressive robo-calling:

Orlando-based Hilton Grand Vacations timeshare was hit with a $17 million lawsuit over robo-calls - a widespread practice that on Thursday prompted the government to release new rules protecting consumers.

The timeshare company, a subsidiary of Hilton Worldwide, allegedly made 11,450 auto-dial robo-calls to numbers owned by Telephone Science Corp., which specializes in blocking and identifying robo-calls.

Company owner Aaron Foss is using a federal law that allows people or companies to sue anyone that targets them with unwanted robo-calling. The law allows $1,500 damages for each call if the violations were willful.

 

What is interesting about this case, at the time Hilton Grand Vacations was still a part of the Hilton brand , and has since then been spun off into it's own. But the case goes on, only in March of 2016 a settlement in the form of a fine was announced by Governor Cuomo of New York State:

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a settlement agreement between the State and Hilton Grand Vacations Company, LLC over unsolicited telemarketing sales calls, in violation of the New York State Do Not Call Law. These calls were made to consumers whose telephone numbers were validly registered on the Do Not Call Registry. The company agreed to pay a settlement in the amount of $250,500 and change business practices before continuing to make such calls to New York consumers.

"New York State created the Do Not Call Law to ensure that residents who opt out of receiving promotional calls are not forced to deal with these harassing messages," Governor Cuomo said. "This settlement will serve as a reminder that companies who violate this law will face consequences and that our administration will continue to protect New Yorkers from these unfair tactics."

 

And in January of this year (2017) a judge ruled that Hilton Grand Vacations cannot escape prosecution for their blatant violation of consumer privacy: Law360, New York (January 4, 2017, 5:28 PM EST) -- A Florida federal judge on Tuesday refused to allow a Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc. subsidiary out of a proposed class action accusing the company of violating consumers' privacy by using an autodialer to place prerecorded telemarketing calls, ruling the individual who brought the suit properly pled her claims. U.S. District Judge James D. Whittemore said he would not dismiss Melanie Glasser's Telephone Consumer Protection Act claims against Hilton Grand Vacations LLC, a subsidiary that offers resort timeshares for consumers, because she properly pled her claims under the law, according to the order. However, according to Judge Whittemore, Glasser's claims meet the standard for concrete injury under the TCPA. He added there is no need for her to allege she answered the calls.

 

The lawsuits are piling up. The complaints, there are just too many to reference in a single article. Just Google any negative words with 'Hilton grand vacations' such as 'fraud' 'scam' 'complaints' and you'll see a deluge of complaints. True, many of these 'complaints' have not yet become lawsuits. But as we referenced previously - some have. The complaints are simply a sign that in the future, more lawsuits can be filed. See another bright example here:

 

I feel that we have been misled and taken advantage of by "The Hilton Club" and its New York based Managing Director of Business Operations, Mr. Albert Sanchez. Mr. Albert Sanchez has not responded to my letter of December 17, 2012 which, as a courtesy to a Hilton Club owner, should be mandatory for his position. If Hilton would like to solve my complaint they should contact me in writing, not by telephone. My wife and I have been trying to get our "investment" money out of this despicable contract since we realized that it was a scam. Hilton Grand Vacations should not be allowed to continue operations until its' questionable, and likely, illegal methods are brought to a higher standard. Therein lies the problem for Hilton as they probably would not survive if they operated in an ethical manner.

Mr. Sanchez was very direct in his support of staff and their methods. He denied that Hilton operates its programs by scamming its potential clients and owners. The high standards that Mr. Sanchez believes Hilton abides loses some validity when one investigates the internet.

 

In Surowitz v. Hilton Hotels Corp, "the complaint alleged that (Hilton) had defrauded stockholders and illegally depleted corporate assets to enrich individual defendants. The issues here are potentially very deep. An anti-trust case against timeshare companies would devastate them. More serious, potentially, can be securities violations for selling unregistered securities, which is clearly what timeshares are (like the opposite of a bond, a timeshare is a contract you have to pay forever) - meanwhile they sell this negative contract as an 'investment' in many cases. Even if it's not an investment, whatever kind of 'derivative' you consider it, it is certainly not real estate, but it's certainly a contract. A court process can decide exactly what it is, but whatever it is, it's unregulated and thus a potential regulatory red flag waiting to go off, and when it does, the stock price of Hilton Grand Vacations Inc. and most other public timeshare operations may be heavily negatively affected.

 

There is another exit scenario that worked for Diamond resorts.

Hilton Grand Vacations can be bought out. There's no way to gauge this - it is always a possibility. Public companies are open to a type of scrutiny and due diligence that private companies are not. Lawsuits, and related liabilities can be dealt with in a completely different way. When a public company is sued for misleading customers, or fraud - just the news of the allegations, even if later found to be false - can be devastating to the stock and thus the capital of the company. A private company however, let's the courts decide.

So a well funded company - that has millions to pay for legal teams, can protect itself much better than a public company. There is no question that the timeshare model is a dying one; it is flawed. It needs to drastically change, reform, or die out. Does that mean the companies like Hilton Grand Vacations will cease to exist? Of course not - simply that the model will change. The question for investors, how much of this 'flawed model' is built into the current valuation of 's 3Billion + Market Cap.

 

Well, let's look at the revenue, they earn about $400 Million per quarter, or about 1.6 Billion per year. According to ARDA, the timeshare industry group - timeshares in general have 83% satisfaction rate. So, that means there is at least 17% of timeshare owners are dissatisfied, for whatever reason. We can use a simple calculation here to say that if 83% are satisfied, we can bet that the same 83% of the revenues are based on real, happy, satisfied customers. We should take a haircut, to consider the liabilities of the 17% of angry customers, as they've been charged for many years for services they were for whatever reason displeased with. What is the haircut? Let's say an additional 13%; given the nature of the claims here (it would be simple to settle, just pay back all the money they received from the 17% for the past few years - or the more likely scenario fight them in court, but at what cost?). This comes out to a round 30%, which we can mark down on the revenue and stock price too. That would mean the current price of 36 would be 26; ironically, this is what the stock was trading at in January of this year (2017). So when we put it like that, it doesn't look so bad for Hilton Grand Vacations however, it still is a short opportunity, and a chance for the longs to take their profit.

 

The conclusion is that if you own it, sell it. If you want a short opportunity, go short, or buy puts. There's plenty of better opportunities in the market, companies with robust business models that aren't based on vapor.

Disclosure: I/we have no positions in any stocks mentioned, but may initiate a short position in HGV over the next 72 hours.

 

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

 

 

UK tourists hit by booking scams up by nearly a fifth

The number of British tourists hit by booking scams rose by 19% last year, according to Action Fraud. In 2016, there were 5,826 reported cases, with holidaymakers losing £7.2 million in total, an average of £1,200 per person.

The most common scams involved plane tickets, online accommodation bookings and timeshare sales. Action Fraud said reports of scams had risen consistently over the past five years.

More than a quarter of those affected said the scams had a significant impact on their health or finances. About 260 people said they needed medical treatment as a result, or were at risk of bankruptcy, according to Action Fraud, the UK's national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre.

'Big-ticket item'

Sports events and religious festivals are a common target for scammers due to the limited supply of tickets resulting in higher prices.

Holidaymakers are being persuaded to part with their cash with fake accommodation websites and adverts, with fraudsters are also hacking into official accounts to target people. Tony Neate of fraud prevention group Get Safe Online said holidays are seen as a "big-ticket item" so present "the perfect opportunity for cyber criminals to swindle unsuspecting victims out of their hard-earned money".

He said people should do as much research as they could about the organisation they are booking through "and ensure that they are a reputable travel operator that is a member of a recognised trade body like Abta". "By booking in haste, you could not only risk losing a huge amount of money, but also disappoint family and friends when it comes to that long-awaited escape," he added.

'I was devastated'

Stephanie Gager paid for her holiday but arrived at the airport to find she was not booked on the flight Scam victim Stephanie Gager used cash and a bank transfer to pay for a non-existent holiday.

She says when she received paperwork with all the right logos and flight information on, she assumed it was legitimate. She was asked to pay a deposit and then told the company she would pay the remaining balance within a fortnight. However, she was then told she had to pay into a bank account "immediately" to get the holiday at a low price.

"When I got to the airport they said to me, 'you're not booked on the flight'. Of course I was devastated," she told BBC Breakfast.

"[Airport staff] said this happens a lot, it's worth paying that extra more to actually make the flight."

She admitted in hindsight she should have heard alarm bells at the point she was told to pay money into a bank account, and has since been given advice about how to avoid fraud.

Authorities say they believe criminals are taking advantage of the lack of awareness of the UK's strict regulations on travel companies.

Fake websites have encouraged tourists to pay via bank transfer or cash, claiming these are the only methods which are protected by their own bogus insurance policies.

But in reality, these methods make it harder for people to get their money back.

Mark Tanzer, chief executive of travel trade organisation Abta, said: "Abta is regularly contacted by members of the public who have been caught out by increasingly sophisticated travel-related frauds.

"We know at first-hand that the loss and shock of finding that your flight or holiday accommodation has not been booked can be very significant."

Get Safe Online, Abta and City of London police have launched a campaign to warn travellers about the dangers of holiday booking fraud.

 

Are Timeshare Stocks a Ticking Time Bomb?

Includes: HLFILGVACWYN

April 6, 2017

Smmary

Timeshare companies are under severe pressure from angry consumers.

Hundreds of ongoing investigations.

Settlement after settlement when will it all end? Or is the model flawed?

We've all heard of timeshares, maybe we have a relative who bought one, or have used one - or are an owner. After all, there are 9.1 million timeshare US owners according to ARDA - The American Resort Development Association. But what's also telling from ARDA's own website, the claimed 83% satisfaction rate:

83% owner satisfaction = 17% owner dissatisfaction, with 9.1 million US owners that means 1,547,000 dissatisfied owners - that's a lot of unhappy customers however you run the numbers.

In this article, we're going to look at a few timeshare 'big caps' - there are thousands of timeshare companies, most of them are privately owned (not surprisingly). However, some of the largest timeshare 'networks' are publicly traded, notably:

·         Hilton Grand Vacations Inc. (NYSE:HGV) (Vacation ownership)

·         ILG, Inc. (NASDAQ:ILG) (Vacation exchange/rental/ownership)

·         Marriott Vacations Worldwide Corporation (NYSE:VAC)

·         Wyndham Worldwide Corporation (NYSE:WYN)

 

They certainly are having a good year. Now let's unmask some of what lies underneath these numbers.

Issue 1: Timeshare Criminal Fraud

The timeshare industry has attracted criminals that have used various ends of the timeshare industry as a means to rob unsuspecting victims, often who are desperate to exit their obligations. It's not advertised in the national news, so this issue may be overlooked as a growing criminal problem, however - the FTC has more than 120 open criminal investigations into timeshare related fraud. See this recent example from Sacramento:

Marco Antonio Ramirez Zuno, 32, of Cancun, Mexico, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in relation to a timeshare resale fraud scheme, says U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert. According to court documents, between 2011 and 2012, Mr. Zuno and others conducted a timeshare resale fraud scheme based in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Sales agents including co‑defendant Juan Montalbo, who also goes by the name of John Monte, conducted sales meetings to convince prospective customers to purchase a timeshare vacation package marketed under the names Platinum Access Program or World Luxury Destinations. If customers had existing timeshare properties, Mr. Montalbo assured them that another company, Continental Resources, would arrange for their sale. When the customers returned from Mexico, they were contacted by co-defendant Wayne York, who also calls himself Tim Hamick or Michael Halston, who claimed to represent companies named Property Marketing Group or Eagle Market Solution and claiming that a bona fide purchaser had been found and was ready to buy their existing timeshares. Others were contacted directly by Mr. York without first giving their information to Mr. Montalbo. According to court documents, Mr. York and others would then extract a series of upfront payments from the victims, which he claimed were required to be wired to bank accounts in Mexico in order for the guaranteed sale to be completed.

It's not fair to attach such criminal frauds to the 'timeshare industry' because these criminals were simply using the timeshare story as a story to get victims to send them money - no product or service was ever intended to be delivered. However, there is a canary in the coal mine here, this is what was happening to the budding Forex industry just before the draconian regulations shut down retail Forex in the USA. Is this a sign that the timeshare industry is about to be regulated, or forced to trade on an exchange? Is a timeshare a security, a contract, or a property? (It's clearly not an investment, which is another misleading sales tactic used by the aggressive marketing firms; they present timeshares as an 'investment' when in reality, it's a perpetual liability that your heirs will inherit.) Here's a press release from 2013 from the FTC outlining some of the criminal cases against fraudulent timeshare operations:

The Federal Trade Commission today announced prizes including three FTC cases, 83 civil actions brought by 28 states, and 25 actions brought by law enforcement agencies in 10 other countries. More than 184 individuals face criminal prosecution by U.S. Attorneys and local law enforcement.

You would think that's old news, now being 4 years ago - but this trend has only continued and in many respects become more entrenched in the 'criminal' community, see from December of 2016 a big fraud shut down by the FTC:

The Federal Trade Commission has charged the operators of a timeshare reselling scheme with bilking at least $15 million dollars from timeshare property owners by imposing hefty up-front fees based on false promises that they would sell or rent their properties. At the FTC's request, a federal court temporarily halted the operation and froze the defendants' assets pending litigation. The agency seeks to permanently stop the allegedly illegal practices and return money to consumers. According to the FTC's complaint, the defendants telemarket to timeshare property owners and falsely claim that they have a buyer or renter ready and willing to buy or rent their properties for a specified price, or they promise to sell the timeshares quickly, sometimes within a specified time period. The defendants charge property owners as much as $2,500 or more in advance but fail to deliver on their promises, the FTC alleged. The FTC noted in the complaint that the defendants string some owners along with additional false claims, such as that they will soon send them money from a sale or rental, and often get them to pay extra for purported closing costs or other fees. Consumers' requests for refunds are typically denied or ignored, according to the complaint.

The crime here is significant for a few reasons - where there's smoke usually there's fire. Many of the timeshare fraud operations are not outright criminal enterprises, like Diamond, they are just high pressured sales operations that push the limits of what's legal in our economy where consumers have many rights.

Also, it's just proof how desperate people are to get out of their timeshares, so they are susceptible to these scams. In other words, if no one wanted out of their timeshare contract, they wouldn't listen to the criminals story. That is the foundation of our argument, there's a lot of unhappy people, just waiting for the opportunity to get out - and these unfortunate crimes are one of several proofs that attest to this: they want out and don't know how. So when they get a call from Vinnie LaSharky offering them a too good to be true bail-out offer for only $2500, they take it.

Issue 2: High Pressure Sales

This NYTimes Op-Ed hit last year but has been recirculated throughout the internet and has caused a flurry of 'timeshare cancellation' companies that only have one business: to get you out of your timeshare contracts. Many of these companies are just regular guys (not lawyers) who have various 'strong arm' tactics to get you out of your contract, which may or may not be legally binding. Checkout some of the stories from this article:

For more than 25 years, Mary Ann Gutierrez, 77, has spent several weeks a year at on the southern shore of Lake Tahoe, Calif., often playing host to her children and grandchildren at one of two timeshare units she owns. When she checked into one of the properties last year, she was stopped at the front desk. A $100 gift card would be hers if she attended a presentation by Diamond Resorts International, the company that owns the resort. But first she had to fill out some papers and supply her credit card information. The gift card came with a cost, as Ms. Gutierrez soon learned. For five hours, she said, Diamond representatives pushed her to give up both of her timeshare deeds, including one at the nearby Tahoe Beach & Ski Club, a resort that Diamond does not own. With the upgrade and membership in Diamond's ownership points system, they said, she would keep her maintenance costs low and could use her points at other resorts in the company's network. It would cost just $30,000 upfront, they said. Even when representatives suggested her maintenance fees would rise if she didn't switch, Ms. Gutierrez kept declining, saying that the cost was too high. Undeterred, the Diamond representatives suggested that she ask her children to pay for the upgrade. She continued to say no and, at last, they let her go. "They weren't going to let me out that door," Ms. Gutierrez said. "I was shaking, I was so nervous."

Interestingly, since the publishing of this story, Diamond Resorts International has gone private, being bought by a massive private equity firm, Apollo Global Management (NYSE:APO). Although Diamond was the leader in such tactics, according to client testimony, they were not the only ones. Such high pressure sales tactics, are borderline legal, and while effective in getting money, they often lead to liabilities and problems which far outweigh any profit achieved.

Other reports that firms setup 'rooms' with young sales reps strung out on various opiates for days paid high commission only to close the sales, re-sales, and other tricks of the trade.

High pressure sales tactics are not something to 'rely' on - in other words, is there a natural demand for timeshares or does the culture of the industry rely on such tricks? If they rely on high pressure sales for their growth, that's not a business, that's another Herbalife (NYSE:HLF). We can debate for years if Herbalife is a pyramid whether or not many of the accusations are proven right or not is irrelevant, the fact is that such accusations are not made against blue chips like Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). Let's be reasonable - there's a reason for the accusations, even if some of them are exaggerated. Timeshare sales stories such as the shaking, scared old grandparents are not just 'stories,' these things happen all the time. That's not a profit stream - that's a liability, a ticking time bomb waiting to blow up.

Here's a story copied and pasted from a victim's forum, for reasons of privacy & security no names are used (but you can easily find hundreds of such sources of stories online, if you think this isn't real):

Back in November, my wife and I looked into information on an MVC timeshare and they took us to another floor and locked us in a room for three hours asking us to buy 1000 points. We attempted to use the restroom and leave but we couldn't find an exit and they had an escort. Our solution was then to sign the paperwork and file a rescission the next morning. After 6 hours, we were free. What was more distressing, the copies of the paperwork given to us didn't match the papers we signed and the signatures were different. The notary was "unavailable" to notarize all documents. Another 24 hours later we had rescission paperwork signed. Less than 15 days later we got a call from the MVC sales office telling us that they received the rescission paperwork but since the contract was not completely signed they couldn't cancel the contract, but they would reimburse the funds they had taken from us. Another month later, they took out an extra few hundred dollars, as well as the thousand we had to pay up front that was reimbursed. A new person contacted us from the sales office and claimed we never gave them rescission paperwork. I sent them the signed copy and they claimed that no one worked there "with that type of signature" and claimed we owed them 1600 dollars. They still say that the contract does not exist nor do we owe any money in the future (may change later due to their tendency to change minds). The funds are for some mortgage deed paperwork that are "not covered by the rescission" but "had 10 days to cancel the contract to avoid" these fees. Has anyone else had this happen to them? Is it common for MVC to ignore rescissions (it's in Nevada and was 5 days)? Is this normal? I'm still put off by the hostage technique and worry about even returning to the city where that sales office is located.

This story shouldn't require further explanation, kidnapping customers and forcing them to sign contracts under duress is illegal and just stupid beyond words, we don't live by Mob rule anymore, even the Italian crime families have evolved and mostly gone into other ventures. If timeshare companies rely on sales tactics like the 'hostage' technique, they're in for a big surprise next quarter.

Issue 3: Old Model

So, it's 2017 - Uber (Private:UBER) has replaced the Taxi industry, AirBnB (Private:AIRB) has ..

The new model for the new paradigm of the post-industrial economy is that of cannibalizing. The Taxi system as it was needed reform and evolution, as do many industries. It was low hanging fruit. But seriously - who buys timeshares anymore? There are so many interesting new methods of travel 2.0 out there, why lock yourself into a particular 'resort' for one week, with all the rules and complications associated with it? It is not the point of this article to promote an 'alternative' travel paradigm, so we will not mention particular services - the point is that the world is changing, and the 'timeshare' model was born in the 70s. It's interesting to note the history of the timeshare industry and how we got to where we are today, from Wikipedia:

The first timeshare in the United States was started in 1974 by Caribbean International Corporation (CIC), based in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. It offered what it called a 25-year vacation license rather than ownership. The company owned two other resorts the vacation license holder could alternate their vacation weeks with: one in St. Croix and one in St. Thomas; both in the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Virgin Islands properties began their timeshare sales in 1973 with owners Hillie Meyers, Don Saunders, and Arthur Zimand.

The contract was simple and straightforward. The company, CIC, promised to maintain and provide the specified accommodation type (a studio, one bedroom, or two bedroom unit) for use by the "license owner" for a period of 25 years (until 1999 from 1974, for example) in the specified season and number of weeks agreed upon, with only two extra charges: a $15.00 per diem (per night) rate, frozen at that cost for the life of the contract and a $25.00 switching fee, should the licensee decide to use his/her week/weeks at one of the other resorts. The presentation's logic was based on the fact that the cost of the license and the small per diem, compared with the projected cost of hotel rates climbing in the next 25 years to over $100.00 per night, would save the license owner many vacation dollars over the span of the license agreement. The license owner was allowed to rent or give his week away as a gift in any particular year. The only stipulation was that the $15.00 per diem must be paid every year whether the unit was occupied or not. This "must be paid yearly fee" would become the roots of what is known today as "maintenance fees", once the Florida Department of Real Estate became involved in regulating timeshares.

The timeshare concept in the United States caught the eye of many entrepreneurs due to the enormous profits to be made by selling the same room 52 times to 52 different owners at an average price in 1974-1976 of $3,500.00 per week. Shortly thereafter, the Florida Real Estate Commission stepped in, enacting legislation to regulate Florida timeshares and make them fee simpleownership transactions. This meant that in addition to the price of the owner's vacation week, a maintenance fee and a homeowners associationhad to be initiated. This fee simple ownership also spawned timeshare location exchange companies like Interval International and RCI so owners in any given area could exchange their week with owners in other areas.

Cancellations, or rescission to the timeshare contract, remain the industry's biggest hurdle to date.

There you have it, born in Florida by egregious social climbers looking for a get rich quick scheme, turned to this alluring business with the Utopian pitch: We're selling the dream (quite literally).

As a Florida native who went to primary school in Fort Frauderdale, this has all the markings of your typical Florida snowbird pitch operations not much different to those in the late '90s that catered to the affluent tourist class (snowbirds they were called, from the north, fly south for the winter) many of them illegal boiler rooms, one even kept a snow leopard in the office with a diamond collar that was trained to 'hiss' at clients that wanted their money back. Yes, this is another boiler room scam waiting to blow up.

Issue 4: Timeshares are Securities?

When you get into the nuts and bolts of how timeshares work, one learns that it's actually a complex opaque market not much different than markets we at Seeking Alpha are familiar with - but with, of course, one huge distinction - it's totally OTC (over the counter) and totally unregulated. When you 'buy' a timeshare, you're actually buying this 'time' slot, which you can then 'sell' for 'points' - 'points' are like a virtual currency of the timeshare industry, each company with their own currency, similar to the Mickey Mouse dollars you can buy and use inside Disney World. Where users buy and sell 'points' is even called an 'exchange' but of course, the exchange is actually just a private marketplace (a monopoly) operated mostly by one firm, RCI, part of Wyndham. But similar to private markets, the bias of the 'brokers' of this system are to only fuel more money in cash into the system, while getting your money out of the system is nearly impossible.

The Securities Exchange Act of 1934 is clear on what is an 'exchange' and a 'security' - however you define a timeshare, it's clearly more than a simple contract. It even has elements of it that resemble an option, such as you are buying an option (the right, but not the obligation) to stay in said property for one week during 2017 and every year thereafter forever ad nauseum.

Issue 5: Is much of this legal?

Products that aren't regulated directly (such as food products) usually fall under the general catch all of the FTC. Amazingly, the opaque unregulated timeshare exchanges have not attracted the interest of the financial regulators (but with Bitcoin and other new initiatives, they have a full plate). What's concerning about unregulated markets is that much of what takes place is done at the whims of the marketplace owners itself, an obvious conflict of interest. Imagine a market where, you had to negotiate in person with the seller of the contract, but the seller also owned the exchange.

Timeshare companies like to play with legal boundaries of what is 'legal' and 'ethical' and 'acceptable.' It should be noted that Timeshare guru Steven Cloobeck, who practically invented the modern form of the Timeshare high pressure sales model for his company Diamond, got a degree in Psychobiology from Brandeis University in 1983. Psychobiology, or Behavioral Neuroscience, is the study of how the brain works on a physical level. Unlike scientists like Edward Bernays who first went about publishing reports before utilizing their models in the real economy, Cloobeck took right to it, making $100 Million in his live experiments he may have called "How to sell the dream in perpetuity."

In hard sciences, experiments on human patients is illegal in the United States and major countries. But in business, politics, and economic studies; it's okay to make experiments such as offering $100 gift cards to tourists in exchange for several hours of neuro linguistic programming (I wonder if Cloobeck is friends with Tony Robbins). But locking someone in a room against their will, is it legal? At what point does it become 'false imprisonment' or 'kidnapping'? Or are these victims who complain about being locked in a room all just liars?

Let's look at statistics from a Sun Sentinel article:

Complaints about timeshare resale companies in Florida jumped from 800 in 2007 to more than 12,000 in 2010, the Attorney General's Office said. It's the most common complaint reported to the office. Criminals often get information about timeshare owners through buying lists from other companies, lead brokers and company employees who steal the information.

Many states have passed statutory laws particular to the timeshare industry, violations of which can be an illegal act. But in the process of selling timeshares other laws can be broken, including but not limited to misleading sales pitches. The most illegal and alarming of these is when the salesman presents a timeshare as an 'investment,' which it is not. If it was, there would be securities issues such as blue sky laws, reg-d issues, and other solicitation issues. But a timeshare is not an 'investment' as it has no value. A timeshare is not 'real estate' and an owner is not buying 'equity' in anything. A timeshare is a perpetual liability to pay contractually. So while there are no securities issues if presented as an investment, it's all lies. Sadly, many use this approach to lure middle-aged middle class buyers into the unregulated unregistered timeshare exchange black hole.

Without getting into the legal details, which would require a much more comprehensive explanation; disclosure laws prohibit the solicitation of any contractual obligation by omitting key material facts and often even suggesting the opposite to be true, such as:

Timeshares have no value.

Timeshares are a perpetual obligations.

Your heirs will inherit the obligation.

If you don't pay, they'll ruin your credit, and try to collect.

It's not possible to 'sell' your timeshare (for cash)

Conclusion

The 'timeshare industry' (can we call it an 'industry' it's an artificiality) is a ticking time bomb ready to explode. While large companies like Wyndham are in a position to adapt with the times, past sales built on an empire of false dreams, hopes, and half legal sales efforts pose a threat to share prices and a liability to shareholders. This undisclosed elephant in the room can weigh on share prices any day; one FTC press release or an FBI raid on a timeshare operation caught doing some of these quasi legal activities can send shares crashing. Investors in the 4 mentioned companies are mostly probably unaware of the 'bad side' of the timeshare industry which is extremely profitable. But if it's so 'profitable' because of these tactics, is it really profitable? If they rely on dirty tricks, swindles, the 'hostage method' and other sales tactics to drive growth, that's not a business model, it's a recipe for disaster.

Want to Sell Your Timeshare? Watch Out for this New Title Search and Tax Scheme!

If you receive an email or call by Pinebrook Resorts, a time-share company, beware. The BBB of Central and South Alabama reported that consumers have received emails from this company offering to buy their timeshares in return for “closing costs”, for taxes and title search fees of $175, to be sent via wire transfer.

The Mobile, AL address of record for this company is actually the Pinebrook Shopping Center. The property managers for this shopping center indicated that there is no business by the name of Pinebrook Resorts at this location. The website associated with this company is very similar to three other timeshare seller sites located in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, & Texas.

If you receive a call or email like this from any timeshare company, here‘s what to do:

  • Hang up! If you receive any unsolicited call of this type, it is most likely a scam.
  • Do not agree to anything over the telephone until you have had a chance to check out the company. Never pay anything upfront or by wire transfer.
  • Ask the person to send you written material to review; get legal advice if you have any questions.
  • Ask for company references, such as the names, addresses, and phone numbers of several consumers who have used the company’s services.
  • Ask if the company’s salespeople are licensed to buy or sell real estate by the state where your timeshare is located, and verify this with the state licensing board.
  • Make sure all conditions of the sale and any promises or statements made by a salesperson are confirmed in writing.

Source BBB Central and South Alabama.

If you are a victim of a Timeshare Scam, the BBB strongly encourages you to file a complaint with us as well as report the incident your local police, your state’s Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Trade Commission.

For more details on this scam, go to BBB Issues Warning for Timeshare Scam and for a primer on timeshares, check out the FTC’s Timeshares and Vacation Plans. To report a scam, go to the BBB Scam Tracker. To find trustworthy businesses, go to bbb.org.

Guilty plea in timeshare resale fraud conspiracy

SACRAMENTO
March 21, 2017 9:05pm

•  Mexican citizen enters plea in Sacramento federal court

•  A scheme built on a foundation of lies and hopes


Marco Antonio Ramirez Zuno, 32, of Cancun, Mexico, has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in relation to a timeshare resale fraud scheme, says U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert.

According to court documents, between 2011 and 2012, Mr. Zuno and others conducted a timeshare resale fraud scheme based in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Sales agents including co‑defendant Juan Montalbo, who also goes by the name of John Monte, conducted sales meetings to convince prospective customers to purchase a timeshare vacation package marketed under the names Platinum Access Program or World Luxury Destinations.

If customers had existing timeshare properties, Mr. Montalbo assured them that another company, Continental Resources, would arrange for their sale. When the customers returned from Mexico, they were contacted by co-defendant Wayne York, who also calls himself Tim Hamick or Michael Halston, who claimed to represent companies named Property Marketing Group or Eagle Market Solution and claiming that a bona fide purchaser had been found and was ready to buy their existing timeshares. Others were contacted directly by Mr. York without first giving their information to Mr. Montalbo.

According to court documents, Mr. York and others would then extract a series of upfront payments from the victims, which he claimed were required to be wired to bank accounts in Mexico in order for the guaranteed sale to be completed.

Mr. York and the others would lie to buyers, telling them that a buyer for the timeshare had already been located and that all the prepaid fees wired to Mexico were being held in escrow and would be refunded as soon as the transaction was completed.

But after the victims wired the money to Mexico, Mr. York and the others would break off all contact with them. According to court documents, Mr. Zuno managed the Mexican bank accounts used in the fraud, trained co-conspirators on how to conduct the fraud, and managed the disbursement of the proceeds of the fraud.

The charges against Messrs. Montalbo and York are only allegations; those defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Mr. Zuno has been in custody since his arrest in April 2016 in Miami, Florida. Messrs. Montalbo and York have been released on bond and are next scheduled to appear in court on June 6 for a further status hearing on their cases.

Meanwhile, Mr. Zuno is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge John Mendez on June 27, when he will face a possible maximum statutory penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Barclays credit arm sued by 106 holidaymakers over timeshare deals

By Sam Barker 20th March 2017 3:08 pm

Barclays Bank consumer credit arm Clydesdale Financial Services is being sued for more than £1.5m by 106 consumers over a holiday home timeshare scheme.

The group of claimants all bought shares in holiday homes in countries including England, Spain, Australia and Tenerife between 2006 and 2014 through timeshare club Resort Properties.

Silverpoint Vacations took over Resort Properties around 2011, according to High Court documents uncovered by Money Marketing sister title Mortgage Strategy.

The claimants say they were invited to presentations by Resort and Silverpoint where they were given a free week’s holiday in a resort as an incentive.

The clubs then recommended the borrowers take out loans with Clydesdale to fund timeshare deals.

However, the 106 members of the public say the details of the deal were not clear and that they were rushed into signing.

Many of the consumers claim they were told their timeshares were an investment that could be easily resold for profit, helped by the clubs.

They also claim Resort and Silverpoint told them they could rent out their timeshares to meet their repayments to Clydesdale, and that the loan could be paid off by selling their stakes.

However, the claimants say the clubs misled them, cost them money and harmed their credit ratings.

The court papers say: “Representatives of [Resort] and [Silverpoint] were well aware from extensive experiences in dealing with timeshares that the timeshares were not readily saleable at all or at a profit and were not an investment.”

Many claimants say they were not informed they were entering into a credit card agreement, or that there was a variable interest rate.

The consumer group says the clubs blamed problems selling the timeshares on factors like the recession.

‘Club Paradiso’

The 106 claimants say the clubs then encouraged them to buy further timeshare stakes trying to recoup their initial losses. Many bought more expensive timeshares in a set of resorts called ‘Club Paradiso’.

Edwin Coe partner David Greene, representing the 106 claimants, says the group is targeting Clydesdale under section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.

The act says creditors can be liable for actions of suppliers.

But Clydesdale denies the claims are valid and says their lack of detail is “embarrassing”.

The lender’s legal response says the claims rest on spoken deals, but that the exact details are not quoted by the 106 claimants.

Further, they say many claims are too old to be brought, and that the laws of the countries the timeshare properties were based in should apply, not the law of England and Wales.

Clydesdale also denies the Consumer Credit Act now applies to it, as the licensing system the law founded ended when the FCA took over consumer credit regulation from the Office of Fair Trading in 2014.

The lender also says the claimants’ contracts fully explained the deals they were getting into and that it does not owe a duty of care to the claimants.

A Barclays spokesman says: “We do not comment on ongoing legal cases.”

Silverpoint did not respond to requests for comment.

EXIT TIMESHARE!