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Better Business Bureau warns about timeshares

Hundreds of timeshare owners – from at least 46 states – have lost thousands of dollars each to timeshare exit businesses that set up operations in recent years in and around Springfield, Missouri, including the Joplin area.

That is a key finding of a four-month Better Business Bureau investigation of the controversial industry by BBB Serving Eastern & Southwest Missouri & Southern Illinois. The results were published in a study entitled “Timeshare Exit Trap.”

Southwest Missouri has a large number of timeshares due to its proximity to Branson, a popular vacation destination. The study reports that BBB has logged more than 350 consumer complaints against 10 of the most active Springfield-area timeshare exit businesses between January 1, 2017 and March 1, 2019.

Clients of those businesses said they paid out more than $2.2 million for timeshare relief work that was either never done or never completed.

The study highlights several cases in which timeshare owners paid timeshare exit teams anywhere from $1,000 to $30,000 after the businesses assured them they could get them out of their timeshare contracts. Several consumers said the exit companies turned their cases over to law firms or others that also failed to help them.

The report comes just 11 months after a July 2018 BBB report on the Missouri vacation industry and timeshares for sale. That study reported questionable marketing and sales practices by some representatives of the timeshare sales industry, and noted that many timeshare owners were turning to timeshare exit strategy companies to negotiate their contract cancellations.

Complaints about the Springfield-area timeshare exit businesses have come from across the U.S. Some consumers say they were given written guarantees, but have received no satisfaction years after paying the timeshare exit team to help them.

The report concludes that seniors and timeshare owners on fixed incomes “are falling victim to timeshare exit companies at an alarming rate.”

The Better Business Bureau recommendations are:

For consumers wanting to get out of a timeshare contract, BBB advises they first reach out to the timeshare operators who own or manage their timeshare to see if the business offers a deed-back or exit program. If such a program is not available consider consulting with an attorney for advice.

While BBB generally discourages hiring a third party to negotiate timeshare relief, consumers who go that route should be very careful in selecting a timeshare exit strategy and negotiating timeshare exit contracts.

If a consumer decides to contract with a third party for timeshare relief, beware of making upfront payments for the work. Ask if they will put the money in an escrow account until the exit company makes good on its promises.

BBB warns that written guarantees from timeshare exit companies may not offer the protection consumers expect because of procedural requirements included in the contract.

BBB suggests that consumers be wary of offers to trade out their timeshares for vacation clubs or points programs with low-cost travel services.

BBB encourages the timeshare sales and management industry to educate consumers that timeshare purchases are real estate transactions, and, as such, buyers of timeshares are committed to their purchase via maintenance fees until the owners can sell the timeshare to another buyer.

BBB urges local law enforcement officials, attorney generals’ offices across the U.S., the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Justice Department to investigate and pursue timeshare exit companies that participate in fraudulent activities.

BBB urges federal authorities to look at whether timeshare exit companies should be treated similarly to businesses claiming to specialize in credit and student debt relief. Under federal law, student debt relief businesses must negotiate, settle or reduce at least one debt before collecting any fees for their services.

What to do if you believe you have been a victim of a timeshare exit company:

* Complain to the company directly.
* File a complaint with BBB.
* File a complaint with the FTC online or by calling 877-FTC-HELP.
* Contact the attorney general’s office of the state where you live, and the attorney general’s office in the state where the business is located.
* File a complaint with your local U.S. Postal Inspection Service office online.

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