NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A lot of timeshare firms have a simple mission – to sell or resell vacation ownership units, or to work with resorts to get new timeshares built in popular vacation spots.
VO Financial Corporation claims to be different. The company based in Nashville, Tenn., says it’s a “Timeshare Consulting Firm” — and their ultimate mission is to expose fraud within this industry.
“We are a group of individuals dedicated to providing the absolute best outcome to timeshare and vacation ownership owners who have been misled into purchasing their ownership,” said Tim Hurley, the VO Financial senior specialist in the Nashville office.
There’s a need for this kind of advocacy, Hurley said, particularly for tourists who have never attended a timeshare sales presentation or purchased a vacation ownership unit to begin with.
And that’s also why, Hurley added, VO Financial is unlike any other company in the timeshare industry. As the firm noted in a recent news released, they are “the first ever timeshare consulting firm committed to helping victims of timeshare fraud with honesty, integrity, and respect.”
There are certainly other agencies that say they’re working to repair the damage done to this vacation and hospitality industry by criminals who set up fake timeshare resale firms. Their telemarketers typically call people who have a timeshare on the resale market, and claim they have a buyer lined up for their unit – if they first pay an up-front fee, often for thousands of dollars. Once that fee gets paid, the seller never hears from the firm again.
Timeshare companies that do not have consumer complaints filed against them say they’re working hard to maintain a good image for this industry, and to promote the honest sale of timeshare units, and to promote the benefits of owning one.
VO says its focus is also on assisting the industry – by weeding out the frauds and crooks who prey on unsuspecting victims.
VO Financial’s website has a list of what it says are the many misrepresentations that typically get made during timeshare sales presentations.
“VO Financial employees hear daily horror stories from families who owe over $100,000 to a timeshare developer, largely due to the sales tactics used by the representatives,” the site notes. “VO Financial believes in the notion that all consumers deserve full and fair disclosure during all aspects of a timeshare transaction. Many timeshare owners don’t have the knowledge needed to navigate through the sea of debt and deception that oftentimes comes with the purchase of a timeshare. At VO Financial, the ultimate goal is to ensure that every client reaches the ownership outcome that they want, deserve, and is financially obtainable.”
VO Financial says it helps victims of timeshare fraud or predatory lending practices by offering specialized retail installment financing options. The firm claims that to date, it has helped more than 9,000 clients in the United States and Canada. They cite testimony from one owner, Dawn of Pennsylvania, who wrote to the company to complain about how one sales presentation turned out to be a big financial mistake for her family.
“We got in over our heads by attending owner meetings, and before we knew it we were signing on the dotted line to purchase more timeshare,” Dawn wrote to VO. “Instead of looking forward to retirement in two years, I was looking forward to working 10 more years — with possibly needing to get a second job to pay for this! We are not experienced in dealing with financial obligations of this size, and before we knew it we were in over our heads financially!”
VO Financial consulted with Dawn and her husband, and helped the couple eliminate $70,000 in timeshare debt. VO notes on its site that afterwards, Dawn wrote back to the company, saying “VO Financial was wonderful to work with. Very kind, considerate and very helpful. They all feel like family now. They essentially gave us our financial freedom back.”
Timeshare resale fraud has become a serious problem for the industry. In October 2011, Attorney General Pam Bondi proposed the Timeshare Resale Accountability Act, intended to protect people who own and want to sell their timeshare from this kind of deception. The bill was approved by Florida lawmakers earlier this year.
Bondi has said timeshare resale fraud had become the number one complaint that the Attorney General’s Office has received for the past two years.
The timeshare resort industry is big business across Florida, with a lot of luxury resorts in this state that market to people who want to own a property they can use on a yearly basis for their vacations in the Sunshine State.
“Florida is home to millions of timeshare periods that consumers purchase,” Bondi said when she unveiled her bill. “We cannot allow unscrupulous individuals to mislead and defraud our consumers who are attempting to sell their timeshares, many of whom have invested their life savings into their dream vacation homes.”
Bondi noted that between January and October 2011, the Attorney General’s Office received almost 6,863 complaints about these scams. In all of 2010, it was 12,000 complaints about timeshare resale fraud — more than the next four highest complaint categories combined.
The most common complaints filed with the AG’s office involve timeshare resale firms that claim a buyer is ready to purchase or rent a property, once the seller signs a contract; deceptive claims that a timeshare property will sell or rent within a quick time frame; failing to honor cancellation policies, including refunds of fees; and misrepresentations of the actual services provided to consumers.
To counter these problems, the bill filed by Bondi mandates that a timeshare resale advertiser can’t misrepresent a pre-existing interest in the owner’s timeshare or mislead a customer about the success rate of the advertiser’s sales.
It also mandates that a timeshare resale advertiser may not provide brokerage or direct sale services, must honor a cancellation request made within seven days following a signed agreement, and must provide a full refund to a timeshare owner within 20 days of a valid cancellation request.
No payment can be collected in any resale advertising activities until the timeshare owner delivers a signed written agreement for the services, and the timeshare resale advertiser must also provide a full disclosure statement printed in bold type, with no smaller than a 12-point font, and printed immediately preceding the space provided for the timeshare owner’s signature.
A timeshare advertising agreement must be put in writing, and any company that violates these provisions will have committed a violation of the Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act and could face a penalty of up to $15,000 per violation.
To file a complaint with the Florida Attorney General’s Office, call the fraud hotline at 866-966-7226.
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