Crimes of Persuasion

Schemes, scams, frauds.

Deceptive Timeshare, Campground and Travel Club Sales

Timeshares, campgrounds or travel clubs may offer to sell membership vacation accommodations for five years or more, or until you resell your interest. Unless you're certain you'll stay healthy, both physically and financially, and that the company selling the memberships will stay solvent and in business, prepaid vacations may not be right for you.

Types of Timeshares

The three most common types of timeshare opportunities are:

blue bullet point

Fixed-unit, fixed-week agreement - you buy the deed to the property which allows use of the property for the same time period each year.

blue bullet point

Right-to-use plan - you lease the property for a particular time period each year for a set number of years, usually 10 to 15 years. Under this type of agreement, the ownership remains with the developer.

blue bullet point

Vacation club or points-based program - you buy points which are then used like currency to purchase time from the amount of available weeks at various resorts. The number of points required to purchase time depends on the season, resort location, luxury, unit size and demand.

There are also variations in how the time can be used, depending on the contract.

blue bullet point Fixed time - In this arrangement, you reserve the same vacation weeks each year.
blue bullet point Floating time - In this case you do not reserve specific dates each year, but rather, reserve a certain season each year, usually within a three to four month period. You must then reserve a specific vacation period in advance. Reservation confirmation is usually on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Common Sales Practices Used in Time Share Sales Pitches

Holding contests then not informing consumers they must listen to a lengthy sales pitch before receiving their "prizes." Misrepresenting the facility's physical condition, market value and resale or exchange potential.

Making oral promises that are omitted from the written contract and including fees and obligations in the contract that are never mentioned orally.

There are certain common traits and techniques all timeshare salespeople employ, all with the purpose of “closing the deal - today”. Tomorrow does not exist.

The presentation is all about misdirection and distraction. The music, for instance. It’s loud and festive. It’s supposed to put you in the mood; but it also conceals the conversations at the next table. Another purpose of the music is when they turn it down, you really notice the silence – to announce another new owner (sometimes fictional) joining the program. The other way they have called attention to new owners is to open a celebratory bottle of champagne.

They can write upside down. Most will use a yellow, not white, legal pad. Felt tipped pens, not ballpoints. They also read quite well upside down. Especially the resort directory which contains a description of every property that you can exchange into.

They have favorite pages in the book and may bookmark specific pages with paperclips or know the book well enough to rapidly find resorts that will be of particular interest to each prospect, depending on what you said you enjoy. Fabrications may be told by salespeople who suggest they own a timeshare, or their parents owned one.

Contractual Obligations of Timeshare Agreements

Timeshare sales contracts usually include clauses that disclaim any promises made during the sales pitch. The contract you sign will ask you to agree that you are making the purchase only on the basis of the representations in that contract. Prospective purchasers who notice differences between what is in the contract and what was promised by the salesperson are likely to be told that the contract is only "legal jargon."

If a timeshare salesperson will not put a promise in writing, don't go through with the sale. You will be forced to argue afterwards that you relied on that promise, even though you have signed a contract that explicitly says you did not rely on any verbal promises.

Timeshare Maintenance Fees

What you may not be told is the extent to which the annual maintenance fee will increase over time. If the seller claims the fees will stay the same, beware. Beautiful properties today may be run-down in five or ten years without sufficient maintenance. Timeshare operators also may force owners to pay unexpected but obligatory special assessment fees.

Secondary Market for Time Shares

As far as timeshares for investments: they rarely appreciate in value.

In fact, the likelihood is that you will lose money on the sale of a timeshare. The original price may have included premiums of up to 40% to cover sales costs. As a result, a resale will yield as little as 60% of the purchase price. Then you will have to pay a new commission (often as high as 20%) to the broker who sells the property for you.

If you decide to buy a timeshare or membership in a vacation club, be aware that resales are difficult, if not impossible. In general the market for resales is poor and may vary considerably, depending on the location and time of year. One recent survey found that only 3.3% of owners reported reselling their timeshares during the last 20 years. Still, desperate to sell, many owners have been taken in by timeshare resale scams.

You have several resale options. You may try selling your timeshare yourself, by placing an ad in a newspaper or magazine, or contacting a real estate agent familiar with the area. If all the timeshares have been sold in your development, consider asking the seller to establish an on-site resale's office. As an alternative, you may consider an exchange program. For a fee, these programs allow you to arrange trades with other resort units in different locations.

What You See...

Evergreen Resorts, a company which markets travel and camping clubs and sells lists of potential customers to other marketers, deceived consumers by displaying a truck it never intended to give away. The brand-new pickup truck appeared in malls, fairs, and recreational shows as a major draw prize award.

They would call consumers who filled out the entry slips and congratulate them, saying they had "won" if they attended a sales presentation for travel, camping or timeshare services or memberships. Attendees found they won a secondary prize, not the truck.

And although they advertised that a truck would be given away yearly, an investigation revealed that no trucks were given for two years and then only because the Attorney General was contacted. Even then the truck finally awarded was not the same as the one displayed.

Expecting to receive the new four-wheel drive, fully-loaded Chevy truck as displayed, the winner instead got a stripped down basic model, priced about half, with no 4-wheel drive, no radio, no carpeting, no clock, no tilt, no aluminum wheels, no extras.

Key Inducement

Through direct mail and telephone solicitations, American Campgrounds offered consumers a chance to win a a Chevy Tahoe or $25,000 in cash in their "If The Key Fits, Drive It!" contest and a trip in their "Carnival Cruise for Two" promotion.

Instead of an actual chance at a major prize, each person who made a reservation and traveled to the campground received an inexpensive watch and a vacation certificate providing only lodging, which was subject to limited availability and conditional upon attending a high-pressure time-share sales presentation.

How one viewer's prize television turned into a vacation club contract that wasn't as black and white.

Crossing the River Styx

Several weeks ago I had went to bed early, and the phone rang. I answered the phone and they said Mrs. Jones, I'm calling from the Gift Center to let you know, you have won a television valued at $179.00.

I said I'm not interested. She said "But don't you want to claim your television, all you have to do is verify your name and address?" I said okay and said yes to her questions. She said we'll mail you a pink card to claim your prize. I said okay and hung up.

Several days later I received another phone call from the gift center. She asked, did I receive my pink card, I said no. She said, "I'm calling to set up an appointment for you to pick-up your television, and I'll send you another pink card."

I asked her what was the value of the television? She said "$179.00, and you also get a $40.00 gas voucher, and a $1000.00 bonus."

She said, "How about Thursday for the appointment, or would a weekend be better?" I said "Saturday", she said "Okay, Saturday at 1:30."

Friday night I received another call from the gift center to verify my appointment Saturday. She said we are located in Robertsdale, you'll need your pink card or remember your prize # RK10.

Saturday, I told my husband let's go pick up the television we won. Working for Walmart, I know how much televisions cost. So for $179.00 I figured it had to be 13 or 19 inches.

We called Saturday for directions. She told me the road to take and to look for the sign Gift Parking. We went to the front door. They had a sheet to sign in.

We signed in and the guy at the desk said, John will be with you in a minute. He took us to a picnic table and said, "Okay, so they promised you a million dollars or something like that to get you here, huh?" We said a television.

It turns out to be a vacation park where you need to buy a membership to join. The gifts are conditional upon hearing a sales presentation.

We walked the park. They have places to park RV's. They have small mobile homes that look like log cabins. They have a building with an indoor pool, and an outdoor pool. He said they were in the process of buying water world, it would be added to the park and be free to members.

He said a membership, was $6000.00. We couldn't afford that, so he said a 10 year was $3999.00 and you have 36 months to upgrade to the lifetime membership. $395.00 down & $91.00 a month. Plus $300.00 in maintenance fees per year.

They make this seem like part of what you have won. This deal is only good for the day you go.

We asked, "You mean we can't go home and think about it, and let you know Monday." He said "Absolutely not, the price then would be $12,000.00."

I asked so what if you pay your down-payment and make some payments and then decide you're not going to use the facility. He said, "If you're asking, have we ever sued anyone? No, we have not."

We signed the paperwork, then asked about the television, we had won. The television was black and white, and 5 inches, the $1000.00 bonus was grocery coupons.

It was about this time I realized I hadn't won anything but they refused to tear up my check or the contract, saying it was a binding contract.

I sent a certified letter two days later stating: "I rescind my contract due to your fraud in enticing us to your location."

I went to the courthouse fora judgment search. The resort has a string of cases where they sued people for breach of contract. The same situation as mine, I'm sure. I've spoken with several people, who paid Styx River Resort because of this scam. They didn't know if this was legal and if you could get out.

After crying for nearly three days solid, I went on-line to look for some kind of information to help, and I found your website. I couldn't believe you actually wrote me back. When you've been lied to like these people do, you feel like there's no one to trust.

After using the information of who to contact from your site, I wrote a letter of my situation, and made copies and mailed to Alabama's Attorney General, the Better Business Bureau, and several other people. A week later the Better Business Bureau received a letter from Styx River Resort ending my membership.

I had a friend call them last week, and ask about pricing over the phone, they quoted her $3999.00 for a 10 year membership. So I know for a fact there is no one day deal, as they tell you. Hope my story helps keep someone from making the same mistake I made.

Thanks for your help. Saved me a total of about $7000.

Didn't Make it Across

It was great finding your website, albeit too late. I was beginning to think that everyone who was scammed by these outfits was too embarrassed to talk about their dealings.

We toured Styx River Resorts and were told the same thing as was Mrs. Jones. We asked questions about the accommodations but were only allowed to see a one bedroom cabin. Everything else was said to be unavailable.

We found out too late that the cabinettes that we were interested in did not even have bathrooms.

After I complained I was told we were stuck with the contract even though some of what the saleslady said was deceptive or just not true. They pointed out that their contract states that they are not held responsible for anything that salesmen say that might induce you to buy a membership.

Anonymous 03/24/02

Sneak Critique

You are offered a free trip which includes airfare and lodging at a destination chosen by you if you attend a "travel seminar" and fill out a questionnaire. You are specifically told that the travel seminar is not a sales presentation just that the Travel Club simply wants you to critique a travel video.

The travel seminars are, in fact, high-pressure sales presentations for memberships in a travel club. Membership costs range in price from $2,000 to more than $3,000.

Instead of the free trip, what you get are travel certificates which do not include airfare and can be used only at a time-share resort.

In order to use the certificate, you are required to choose three destination choices, at least 100 miles away, and pay a "$50 refundable room guarantee deposit." The Travel Club ultimately chooses the destination, and you are not told you will be required to attend a high-pressure time-share sales presentation in order to receive the refund.

Spin To Win

I just received a phone call informing me that I had won a prize but in order to claim it I had to attend a 120 minute sales presentation on timeshare opportunities for Red Wolf Lodge in Tahoe.

Afterwards, I would spin a wheel for one of 5 prizes; $500, $1000, a trip to Las Vegas, a trip to Hawaii, or a trip to Tahoe. They said there is no obligation to buy anything. I agreed but told them I would call to confirm because I wasn't sure I'd be able to make it.

It sounds too good to be true and I am very skeptical. Does this sound like a scam? When I call back what type of questions should I ask? Any help or advice would be appreciated.

Shannon Mullis 10/01

Seeing is Believing

I purchased a time share last year from Wyndamn Palms Resort in Kissimmee, FL.

The model looked great. Lots of plants, plush towels and bath mat, decorative pillows on the beds, cloth napkins and placemats, etc. The unit we eventually stayed in had none of these things.

At the time we bought, I asked if all the units looked like the model, with all the extras, and was told they did. I should have looked for myself but didn't.

Do I have any legal recourse? Is there any breach of contract?

David Albert 03/24/02

Still Feeding An Albatross

Eighteen years ago, I was foolish enough to purchase the following type of campground timeshare from Indian Cove Resort in Virginia Beach, VA.:

Fixed-unit, fixed-week agreement - you buy the deed to the property which allows use of the property for the same time period each year.

I have never been back since I purchased and paid the entire $7,000 for the timeshare. Each year I have paid the maintenance fee, which runs approximately $30/month, but not until a creditor bullied me into paying the full amount.

The past two years though, I have not paid and now "owe" them close to $900 in back dues but have decided not to return the creditor's calls. I have gotten to the point where I would rather fight this in court with an attorney than to pay them. What do you recommend? By law, what recourse do the parties have?

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Brian Perkins 09/19/02

I signed up with which is timeshare for sale by owner. I was promised that my timeshare would be sold by labor day but it wasn't. Can I get my money back?

Candy Steele 10/08/02

Lingering Remorse Could Last Fifty Years

I need some help in trying to break out of a contract I signed on August 17, 2002 at the Vacation Inn resort in Collingwood, Ontario.

It all started with a phone call from them inviting us for a weekend for a 1 hour presentation. Well the presentation started on Saturday at 9:30 and I believe it ended close to 2:00.

About ten couples were brought in to this big room and each was seated with one salesperson at different spots so that conversations between each table could not be heard. It began by asking us travel questions (how often we like to travel, where we like to go, how important it is for us to travel, etc - the usual stuff, I'm sure).

Then there was a presentation for the whole group in a small room where the person spoke very fast for approximately 45 minutes. Following that we were taken to see a model of units we could have access to, as they were not selling a timeshare but a "vacation membership."

Then we sat back at the table and the selling began.

It started at a 50 year membership for $25,000, as we kept saying that we couldn't afford it because we are students with debts, they kept lowering the price and saying "This is a one day only" deal because by law they could not offer it another day.

At the end of 4 hours after lowering the price to $8000 (after removing "fees" that we found they were not entitled to charge us anyway) and ensuring us that we could resell this at any time for the same amount or less, they gave us five papers to read and sign, three of which had small writing (font 10 or less) on the back.

Needless to say that at that moment we didn't know what we were reading. After paying attention for 4 hours it is impossible to concentrate on small writing documents with details not discussed during the presentation.

Do you have any advice on how to get out of this? We called them on the Monday to cancel the contract but only got the secretary who told us that a "rescission" was not possible, and then went on ignoring our complaints telling us that "You are going to love it, you are just experiencing buyer's remorse."

The head sales person contacted us finally on the Friday (after leaving messages on his machine and with his secretary) and we expressed verbally once again that we wanted to "rescind" the contract to which he answered "that's not going to be possible."

He continued on to ensure us that they had not done anything illegal and that until the law changed he wasn't doing anything wrong. When responding to comments about high pressure tactics, he stated "Yes, that is the way these things are sold. These guys are professionals."

He continued on, like his secretary, to ignore our demands and spout platitudes. Please help!!!!!

Analia Barroetavena 10/16/02

Info about Marriott Vacation Club International, Timeshare Nation and Aquatology.

TSN was supposed to revolutionize the secondary timeshare market with placement on eBay, backing from MVCI and inventory from developers including Starwood and Hilton.

Instead, TSN ceased operations in April, leaving in excess of $100,000 in unpaid wages and fees.

The TSN Web site ultimately became the home page for Aquatology, a company operating under the same ownership as TSN. The new concept was that of a Miami-based yacht staffed by at least six "hostesses" to attend to the needs of up to four male guests. Once international waters were reached, the yacht would become a floating brothel and casino.

Documents filed with the Florida Secretary of State office show Mike Costigan as president of TSN and Steve Burke as vice president. The board of directors included the senior Costigan, Burke, Derek Eily and Roger Dow, a senior VP with Marriott, Inc. It seems possible that MCVI, and its parent company Marriott, Inc., are themselves victims of several highly placed MCVI employees who shared the trust, but not the values, of the corporation.

Marriott's 1984 entry into timeshare is widely accepted as an industry turning point in terms of product credibility and flexibility.

San Francisco Examiner 08/16/02

I came home from work yesterday and my 9 year old son was so excited because my wife had just received a phone call saying we were guaranteed to win one of 5 prizes ($1,000 cash, trips, cruises, etc.).

All I had to do was go hear a 2 hour presentation in Woodbridge Ontario - dinner would be served. I tried to explain to him that nothing in life is free and that I would do some research. I called back "The Vacation Store" and asked some pointed questions about the value of their guarantee, previous winners, additional costs.

As expected they were very coy and even short with me.Would love to hear your feedback!

David Taylor 10/30/02

Still Going Strong After Five Years

1673853 Ontario and/or 1197980 Ontario Inc dba The Vacation Store Company dba TVS Corp. dba Canadian Gifting Center, Canadian Gifting Centre, dba Canadian Promotion Gift Centre, dba Cendes Promotion dba National Gifting Centre, National Gifting Center

2nd floor, Unit 202, 216 Chrislea Road, Woodbridge, Ontario L4L 8S5.

affiliation with
Canadian Vacation Time Sharing Companies, Fairfield Vacation Club,
51 International Boulevard, Etobicoke, ON M9W 6H3

416-222-6708, 416-222-5125 fax,
416-224-0410, 416-224-2058, 416-224-8331, 416-224-8298, 416-224-5161
416-642-6790, 416-642-6793, 416-642-6796 (possible range of numbers 6790-6796)
416-642-6821, 416-642-6824, 416-642-6826, 416-642-6827 (possible range of numbers 6821-6827)
416-342-1520, 416-342-1547 (possible range of numbers 1520-1547)
416-847-1058, 416-847-1061,
999-299-7643, 999-888-0006
905-856-1747, (905) 264-2453 Fax, 905-481-0571,
718-673-6170, 321-250-7422, 202-552-1557
647-426-1890, 647-426-1886, 647-722-6187,

John Carroll, President
David Ouellette, (former) Secretary/treasurer
Damien Radulescu
In business in some form since 1994

Boiler room telemarketers selling vacation club memberships -said the sponsors were:
RCA / Hilton / Ramada / TVS / Royal Caribbean Cruises

Basically, if you attend a 90 minute meeting your are guaranteed some variation of the one of five prizes or one of three prizes scheme:

Their website has the following whois data

Description: travel club
Admin-Name: Tom Caringi
Admin-Title: Marketing Director
Admin-Postal: The Vacation Store
200 Finch Ave West, Suite 109
Toronto ON M2R 3W4 Canada
Admin-Phone: 416-224-2058
Admin-Fax: 416-222-5125

Name brings up this. (may have designed site for them)

Bimen Business Consultants
365 Evans Avenue, Suite L10
Toronto, Ontario

Principal Contact Information:
Tom Caringi, President
Tel #: 416-503-2957
Fax #: 416-233-1371

Mexican Time Share Issues and Related Laws - Consumer Protection

According to the Web site, maintained by VERNON PENNER, Attorney at Law in Mexico:

Cancellation Period

There exists a five (5) day period of cancellation, during which the contract does not become perfected, for sales that are described as "at domicile, mediate or indirect". This indicates those sales that are proposed or carried out, outside the local or establishment of the provider, including the rental of chattels and the rendering of services. This also applies to the selling of timeshare rights.

This 5 day right of cancellation is not waivable (the buyer cannot give it up) and even if the buyer is convinced to sign a document to give it up (waive the right) that waiver is not valid and the buyer still has the 5 day right.

Please note that if you have issues against a timeshare company in Mexico you should file a complaint with Profeco, which is the Consumer Protection Agency. They are slow, they are limited in how far they can go to help you, but sometimes they really come through.

Go to the Mexican site. Near the center of the page you'll see a small bright icon that says "Attention to Foreigners". Click on that and it will give you the info you need. (Note: link removed, no English on site.)

You should also file a complaint with the Attorney General in the US state where the company has offices, the US Attorney General's office, and your own state's Attorney General. Get it on the record.

Editor's note: I have, over the years received several inquiries regarding perceived abuses from dealings with a time-share business in Mexico going by the name Mayan Resorts / Mayan Palace, aka Desarrollo Marina Vallarta. I have been asked to post a link to a website which has been formed by individuals who have had bad experiences with this company. I am more than happy to assist potential victims by doing so. I make no allegations regarding the firm, nor do I have any control over what is posted on the site. Inactive site last time I looked.

Certain customers of Mayan Resorts are assembling a petition which they hope to bring to the authorities in the hopes of resolving concerns they have with this operation. Please add your voice if you feel it is warranted.

How to Get Discount Tickets for Disney World

Getting Out of Your Contract Before and After Three Day "Limit"

See also: TimeShareBeat's Vacation Club Scams.

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Timeshare Users Group 1 / Timeshare Users Group 2

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