Attorney General Bailey Obtains Consent Judgment In Timeshare Exit Case

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo.- In a major win for consumers, Attorney General Andrew Bailey announced today that his Office has obtained a consent judgment against Vacation Consulting Services, LLC; VCS Communications, LLC; The Transfer Group, LLC; Real Travel, LLC; and their owner Brian Scroggs for failing to let consumers out of their timeshare agreements. Scroggs owned Vacation Consulting Services, a Missouri-based company that offered timeshare exit services around the country.
“One of my biggest priorities as Attorney General is to enforce the law as written, and that involves holding fraudulent companies accountable for preying on Missourians,” said Attorney General Bailey. “This consent judgement is a testament to the work that this office’s Consumer Protection Unit puts in everyday to protect Missourians, and we will continue to use every legal resource available to pursue justice for victims of consumer fraud.”

The State filed a Petition against the Defendants in July 2020 for violations of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act. After more than two years of hard-fought litigation, Defendants agreed to settle the case for $800,000. This figure includes $700,000 in restitution for consumers, $50,000 in civil penalties, and $50,000 to the Missouri Practices Revolving Fund, which will help pay for the State to pursue other future actions on behalf of defrauded consumers.

The Judgment permanently enjoins Scroggs and the other Defendants from marketing or selling third party timeshare exit services in the State of Missouri.

While the consent judgment sets the restitution amount, Scroggs has filed for bankruptcy protection. The Attorney General’s Office continues to pursue Scroggs in bankruptcy court in order to attempt to recover as much as legally possible for consumers.

The consent judgment can be read here: https://ago.mo.gov/docs/default-source/press-releases/2023-01-06-consent-judgment(13807993-2).pdf?sfvrsn=207a25e6_2

Attorney General Bailey encourages Missourians who believe they may be the victim of any scam or unfair practice to file a complaint by calling the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection hotline at 800-392-8222, or by submitting a complaint online at ago.mo.gov.

Timeshare Exit Tips

  1. For consumers who want to get out of the timeshare contract, they should reach out to the timeshare directly to see if they offer a deed-back or exit program.  If a program is not available, consult with an attorney for further legal advice.
  2. Beware of making upfront payments to timeshare exit companies for the work they promise.
  3. Written guarantees from timeshare exit companies may not offer the protection or promises that consumers expect.
  4. Do your research.  Research the owners and the business carefully before paying any money.
  5. Check with the Attorney General’s office and BBB for complaints prior to doing any business with a timeshare exit company.
  6. If you believe you have been scammed, you can contact the Missouri Attorney General’s office Consumer Protection hotline at 800-392-8222 or visit their website at www.ago.mo.gov

General Timeshare Tips

  • Look on the secondary market first. If you are interested in buying a timeshare, you may save thousands buying on the resale market. Be fully aware of what you are purchasing and from whom you are buying to ensure a smooth transaction. Make sure you have in writing the terms of the sale and what each side is responsible for paying at closing. Read the contract carefully and ask questions of the seller.
  • Don’t bow to pressure. Take time to think about your decision. Ask the salesperson to send you written information about your possible purchase, including a contract that you can review. There is nothing that says you have to sign the first thing that is shown to you. Let the deal breathe before you figure out if it is right for you.
  • Do your research. Compare travel savings with online travel services or local travel agents. Also, check out the company with the Attorney General’s office and the BBB.
  • Act fast if you are not satisfied. If you sign a contract for a timeshare or travel club, you have a short window to cancel the contract if you don’t like what you purchased. Don’t wait until after you get back from your trip to take a second look at the contract and research the company you are dealing with or it may be too late. Also, always pay with a credit card so you can challenge the charge should something go wrong with the purchase.

4 Things to Understand About Exiting Your Timeshare Contract

ARDA, the trade association representing the timeshare industry, has teamed up with Lisa Ann Schreier, a/k/a The Timeshare Crusader, to put together this list of important information about exiting a timeshare contract.

Education is key

As an owner, you need to know how to use your timeshare, the costs associated with your timeshare, and your options if you ever decide that ownership no longer meets your vacation needs.

“The closing/verification process is designed to answer your questions away from a potentially commissioned salesperson,” says Lisa. “Take advantage of that process. Don’t be rushed.

Having answers at the onset of owning may save you resources later.”

If you decide a timeshare is no longer a fit with your lifestyle, then educating yourself on the safe and often free ways to exit is another important step in the education process. “ResponsibleExit.com is a safe and trusted resource that will help with any questions you may have,” says Jason Gamel, President and CEO of American Resort Development Association (ARDA).

The developers on ResponsibleExit.com have support teams trained to help owners understand their options. “By contacting your developer, they can review your account and let you know your best options based upon your individual needs,” says Gamel.

There’s a world of difference between a timeshare that’s paid in full and one with a loan balance.

No Loan balance and current on your maintenance fees

Many timeshare developers offer low-cost or even free exit options to those owners who don’t have a loan balance and are current on their maintenance fees. And often, you don’t even need a reason other than you no longer want to be an owner. The key is calling the developer first, as they might not be able to work with you (for legal reasons) if you have engaged a third party to help.

Loan balance and/or delinquent maintenance fees

In this situation, cancelling your contract becomes a lot more complicated. Not only because you have an outstanding loan, but it is also more difficult if you owe money to the association. The only way to modify your loan or receive any other financial relief is to work directly with your timeshare developer. “No developer or lender is going to cancel a contract just because you suddenly decided you don’t want the timeshare or can’t afford it. Also, claiming, without written proof, that you were promised your maintenance fees would never go up, or that your timeshare would increase in value, are not legitimate reasons either. This is yet another reason why education is vitally important”, says Lisa, The Timeshare Crusader. It’s also worth noting that many scam companies claim they can get you a refund. In a word…not likely.

The truth about self-proclaimed exit companies and exit attorneys.. they’re not the same

For years, companies have come and gone that have promised quick and easy exit options for timeshare owners. Whether it was having a “buyer ready on the other line” to buy your timeshare, or companies who now claim that they can cancel your timeshare contract, companies will do anything to get you to pay for something you may be able to do yourself. If you’re an owner, chances are you’ve already been contacted by one or more of these companies.

“While these companies are quick to use the words “fast, easy and/or simple” and seem to offer a money-back guarantee if they don’t do what they promise, the reality is not quite as rosy,” cautions Lisa.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Timeshare ownership is governed by the legal documents that create the timeshare plan as well as legally binding contracts. These non-lawyer exit companies cannot offer legal assistance if they aren’t lawyers themselves. If they claim to be working with lawyers, it is good to check the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and any complaints against those companies to see if that is the case.
  • It’s simple for any company to offer a money-back guarantee. It’s an entirely different matter to get an exit company to pay up when they don’t live up to their obligations. Going back to the importance of education, check BBB ratings, and talk to other owners. What happens if the company goes out of business? How will they protect your money? Will they put it in an escrow account where they can’t touch it until they deliver on their promises?
  • Read the fine print in the contract. If all the company can do on your behalf is obtain a foreclosure, is this considered a “win?” And what about your credit? Are you prepared to take a hit on your credit score that will last 5, 7, or more years? Understand how the foreclosure process works and know the difference between a maintenance fee foreclosure and a loan foreclosure. Each one may have a different impact on your credit.
  • So, should you consult an attorney? Maybe. “Understand that hiring a timeshare savvy attorney is almost always a better option than dealing with a self-proclaimed exit company, all depending on what you are trying to accomplish,” warns Lisa.
  • “If you find an attorney willing to take on your case based on one of the concerns outlined in the previous section, they might be more interested in their fee than providing you the solution you are looking for,” says Lisa. “Hiring a reputable attorney will help you to not only determine if you have a valid legal claim against your developer but also give you legal counsel at all stages of your case and establish a valid attorney/client relationship.”

Your options
To summarize, ARDA and The Timeshare Crusader offer this information:

  1. Understand what you’re purchasing and your exit options before purchasing.
  2. Realize that if you’re looking to sell your timeshare, its value isn’t based on how much you paid for it; instead, it is its value in having prepaid vacations and time with your family and friends.
  3. Avoid any company or individual wanting to charge you large up-front fees for exit services that won’t be completed for years.
  4. Always check with your developer first or ResponsibleExit.com before you sign anything with a third-party company.
  5. If a company offers a “money-back guarantee,” make sure to ask how your money would be protected if they go out of business or they don’t perform their services as promised.
  6. Check reviews readily available online but not on the company’s own website, as these can be easily fabricated.
  7. Finally, talk to other owners, your developer, and your exchange company, as you may discover new ways to use your timeshare.

Don’t Want Mom & Dad’s Timeshare – No Problem!

 

One of the more common inquiries that the Ask ROC! Consumer Helpline receives, is from timeshare owners with estate planning questions. Often they have enjoyed their timeshares for many many years and are now getting to a point in their lives when they want to start thinking about what to do with it when they are no longer around to use it. They may have heard from someone, or read somewhere that their offspring and heirs would be obligated by law to take ownership of it, along with the financial obligations of ownership. This mistaken belief typically results in a timeshare owner making the decision to try and get out of their timeshare many years before they are done traveling and making memories. Or even worse, becoming the victim of a scam company that is pushing this false narrative with hopes that owners will pay them money to help them exit their timeshares.

We thought it was time to set the record straight, and solicited the help of Kurt Gruber of the law firm BakerHostetler to answer a few of the common questions. Mr. Gruber is a 30-year law professional specializing in real estate and hospitality law, with a concentration on the shared ownership and vacation industries.

Question 1: What happens to my timeshare when I pass away?
The majority of timeshare products are structured in such a way that they are assets that may be owned in perpetuity (or at least until the timeshare plan terminates). If you still own your timeshare at the time of your death, then ownership would pass to your heirs (if you don’t have a will) or to your devisees (if you do have a will). It is generally advisable to have a will to direct the disposition of your assets and in that document you may designate who will receive your timeshare. If you do not have a will, or if you do have a will but do not designate a specific recipient for your timeshare, then generally the laws in your state of residence or of the state where the timeshare is located, will determine who gets your timeshare.

Question 2: What happens if my heirs don’t want it?
An heir or devisee that is designated to inherit your timeshare can file a disclaimer of interest to legally prevent inheriting the timeshare. State laws will dictate the amount of time your heir has to file this disclaimer. It is also advisable for the executor of your estate to notify your resort operator and the holder of any mortgage of your death, to prevent the accumulation of delinquency costs. In order for the disclaimer to be effective, it is important to emphasize that the disclaiming heir should not act in any way inconsistent with their intent to disclaim the timeshare, e.g. by using the timeshare or letting anyone else use the timeshare after the your death.

Question 3: What if I stop making payments? Will it affect my credit?
First, it’s almost certain that you will no longer be able to use or exchange your timeshare after you stop making payments. A resort will generally not allow an owner to check-in or exchange the use rights if there is any balance on the account. Next, the amount you owe may quickly grow as late fees, interest, and collection costs are added to the outstanding balance. This could greatly increase the cost of satisfying the debt if you decide you want to continue using your timeshare.

If you no longer wish to own your timeshare, nonpayment of your mortgage or maintenance fees could result in negative reporting to the credit agencies and harm your credit rating. This will largely depend on whether your timeshare is paid off and the debt is maintenance fee debt owed to your resort operator, or if the debt is mortgage debt that is often owed to a 3rd party. The latter is much more likely to affect your credit. Your ownership often will continue until such time a foreclosure action is completed and the timeshare is recovered by your creditor through legal means. This can cause further damage to your credit.

We are very appreciative of Kurt Gruber’s insight to help set the record straight on some common timeshare estate planning questions. For owners who are contemplating exit, ARDA-ROC recommends owners always contact their timeshare developer, resort management company or HOA as their first source of information regarding exit options. For more information on how to safely explore exit options, visit www.responsibleexit.com.

Are timeshares a scam?

When we hear the words vacation ownership, we think of happy families sharing memories together year after year. Timeshares are a great way to secure your vacation plans for years to come and travel the world.

People still wonder if timeshares a scam. If timeshare was a scam, would companies like Disney, Marriott, Hilton and Wyndham ever want to be associated with it? Would they risk their reputations on it?