Attorney General Bill McCollum today announced that his office has filed lawsuits against three Florida companies, alleging the companies and their owners used deceptive and unfair practices that enticed consumers to spend hundreds of dollars to advertise their timeshares for resale with the companies. All three lawsuits are seeking restitution for affected consumers as well as court orders prohibiting the companies from committing further violations of Florida law and reimbursement of costs and fees. Four companies in the Tampa Bay area were also served with investigative subpoenas yesterday.
“With complaints about timeshare resales on the rise, my office will continue launching investigations, filing lawsuits, and obtaining whatever relief is available for victims of these scams,” said Attorney General McCollum.
The lawsuits name Timeshares By Owners, Gold Crown Property Management Inc., and International Marketing and Finance Group. These three lawsuits bring the number of lawsuits filed by the Office of Attorney General against timeshare resale companies to a total of 10. Additionally, more than 60 companies have been investigated and 48 investigations are active, including the four with the subpoenas served yesterday.
This year, the Attorney General’s Office has received more complaints regarding timeshare resale than any other single issue.
The Attorney General’s Economic Crimes Division began investigating the companies sued today after receiving numerous consumer complaints, alleging the companies were using false or misleading sales pitches to induce consumers into paying up-front fees for the companies’ advertising services. According to consumer complaints, each of the companies misled consumers into believing that the companies had buyers ready to purchase the consumers’ timeshares. Consumers have also reported that the companies promised to sell the timeshares within a given period of time. When the companies’ services did not perform as promised, the consumers allege that the companies would not provide refunds.
The lawsuit naming Timeshares Direct, Inc., which does business as Timeshares By Owner, alleges that the company is in violation of a 2001 settlement with the Attorney General’s Office. According to that settlement, the company was prohibited from using misleading sales tactics, such as claiming to have a buyer waiting to purchase the consumer’s timeshare, to induce consumers into advertising their timeshares with the company. Since 2007, the Attorney General’s Office has received more than 180 consumer complaints alleging that Timeshares By Owner is not honoring conditions of the settlement. The lawsuit, which names two of the company’s owners, Jana Kilmek and Jeffrey Frantz, was filed today in Orange County Circuit Court.
The second lawsuit was filed in Pinellas County Circuit Court against Gold Crown Property Management Inc., and owners Roy Xiques, and Jason Kress. This lawsuit seeks to recover consumer payments and to prohibit the business and its officers from making false promises that a buyer is ready and available to purchase a client’s timeshare. The lawsuit further seeks to prohibit the company from claiming an easy refund of fees is available if the services are not successful. The Attorney General has sought to ensure that the business complies with Florida law requiring upfront written disclosure of the business’s actual success rate selling timeshares for its customers, as well as the cost of the timeshare resale services.
The last lawsuit was filed today in Palm Beach County Circuit Court against International Marketing and Finance Group, Inc. and its president, Christopher Lee Hutson. The lawsuit alleges the timeshare reseller engaged in deceptive business practices by, among other things, misrepresenting the availability of refunds for upfront fees paid by consumers and, in some instances, unlawfully charging consumers’ credit cards prior to the receipt of signed contracts.
Continuing the focus on the timeshare resale industry, the Attorney General’s Office yesterday served investigative subpoenas to four Tampa Bay area timeshare resellers. The subpoenas were served on Eclipse Property Solutions of St. Petersburg, Super Timeshare Resales of Tampa, International Resort Properties, LLC of New Port Richey, and Ace Timeshare, Inc. of Pinellas Park. These subpoenas seek information about the businesses’ sales and business practices and require the production of copies of contracts, licenses, marketing materials, telephone scripts, identity of affiliate businesses, and other sales transaction documentation.
The Attorney General’s Economic Crimes Division has been actively pursuing timeshare resellers as part of a statewide initiative that started in 2009. In furtherance of these efforts, the Attorney General has recently joined forces with the Federal Trade Commission, The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and local law enforcement across the state, establishing a multi-agency taskforce to combat fraud within the timeshare resale industry. The office has already recovered more than $ 1.8 million in settlements for return to consumers.
Floridians who are considering listing their timeshare for sale or rent are encouraged to contact the Attorney General’s Office to inquire whether or not specific companies have complaints reported against them. Consumers can contact the Attorney General’s Citizen Services Division by calling the Attorney General’s fraud hotline at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM (1-866-966-7226) or by visiting the Attorney General’s website at http://www.myfloridalegal.com.