(WRIC) — Spring break is just around the corner and maybe you’re considering a timeshare. Beaches, mountains, waterfront get-a-ways, those timeshares can be tempting but one local couple shared how it’s “buyer beware.”
A Chesterfield couple shared with 8News a story of timeshare trouble in paradise and 8News has learned they’re not the only Virginians who feel they’ve been duped.
“We just wanted to get out and enjoy what little bit of life we had left together,” William Ogburn of Chester said.
Life hasn’t always been easy for Ogburn. He has buried his three children, something a parent never expects. Later, Ogburn was paralyzed after a fall at work followed by surgery complications.
William and his wife just wanted to have a little relaxation. So, when he and his wife were pitched a timeshare, they were hooked.
“This is the one we brought in to,” said Ogburn, pointing to a brochure for his Wyndham Vacation Ownership property in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.
Rolling waves, soft sandy beaches and waterfront accommodations, it was a slice of paradise.
“They literally rolled out the red carpet to you,” Ogburn told 8News.
However, after at least five years of ownership, that slice of heaven has turned into financial purgatory. The monthly maintenance fees were adding up.
“One month I think I paid $1,300 for it, the next month I paid $1000, the next month I paid a $1,000,” Ogburn explained.
Ogburn said he’s invested about $130,000 into the timeshare. He didn’t want out of it but he did want to cut back on some of the expenses. He had other needs to worry about.
Ogburn’s wheelchair is cracked, the tires are worn out and in need of a replacement. The wheelchair carrier for his car also needs replacement and his car has 200,000 miles on it. In addition to all of that, Ogburn’s worker’s compensation just ran out. The couple went to a Wyndham representative to see if there was a way to cut costs.
“We spend quite a few hours explaining that we couldn’t pay anymore. We are already in over our heads,” Ogburn said. He says the rep told them not worry, he had a plan.
“He said from this point on you will never have to pay another penny to Wyndham. Nothing,” Ogburn told 8News.
The rep did warn them that there would be papers to sign and they would be videotaped. 8News asked Ogburn if he found that suspicious.
“Well I did, but he had told us to trust him,” he said. “We told him we can’t afford another penny and he said this is not going to cost you anything.”
So, when the Ogburn’s next Wyndham credit card statement showed up, a card the timeshare company encouraged the couple to take out, they were stunned. Ogburn had been charged $13,000 dollars and his wife was charged a whopping $23,000.
The timeshare program works on a point system. The papers the couple signed were to purchase more points.
“I’m thinking what’s going on here. It must be a mistake,” Ogburn recalled. “We called them right away.”
The Ogburn’s called and wrote letters but say they got the runaround. 8News did too at first. We spent more days calling and emailing.
“A lot of families lose a lot of money on this and they can’t find a way to get out,” said Barry N. Moore, president of Central Virginia’s Better Business Bureau.
Moore said the BBB has issued an alert about the timeshare company and the many other names they use. The BBB noted a pattern of complaints.
“Pressure to buy, pressure to up-sell you into higher points program and then (if) you want to leave that timeshare, it is very difficult to get out of that timeshare,” Moore told 8News.
8News has also uncovered more than 75 complaints filed with the Virginia Attorney General mostly alleging fraud and misrepresentation. Moore recommends for anyone considering a timeshare that you take your time to do the research before signing anything.
“If you are about to enter into a $100,000 plus timeshare especially, take an extra $500 and have an attorney spend an hour and go through that timeshare for you, the contract,” Moore explained.
Ogburn has his own thoughts, “I think we were just totally deceived. We went in there thinking we were reducing our expenses. It’s fraud.”
After 8News spent those long days calling and emailing Wyndham trying to get answers for the Ogburn’s, the couple finally got a call from the timeshare company. And through email, Wyndham Destinations told 8News, “they do qualify for our hardship program under Wyndham Cares.”
They also told 8News they, “have offered the Ogburn’s the option to cancel their most recent purchase.” Wyndham’s complete statement reads as follows:
Thank you again for reaching out to us and for giving us the opportunity to research this case.
As we stated previously, we know that our owners who vacation with us overwhelmingly love being part of a vacation club – and the Ogburns are no exception.
We were thrilled to hear that they love their ownership but disappointed to hear of their recent challenges.
Based on the feedback they provided, they do qualify for our hardship program under Wyndham Cares. While I’m unable to disclose specific details on their case to respect their privacy, I can confirm that we have offered the Ogburns the option to cancel their most recent purchase. This would mean they would be fully paid off in their ownership and only be responsible for their annual maintenance fees. We look forward to welcoming them back to their favorite resorts again very soon.
Should they decide that vacation ownership is no longer right for their lifestyle, they would qualify for our Ovation program, which would allow them to modify or exit their ownership for free within 30 days. “
The Ogburn’s say it was 8News that opened the line of communication for them. The American Resort Development Association which represents timeshares says Wyndham Vacation Ownership is a member and in good standing with them.
The Virginia Attorney General office told 8News, “Attorney General Herring’s Consumer Protection Team will look into any complaints against this company and will take any appropriate next steps. I would encourage any of your viewers to reach out to AG Herring’s Consumer Protection Section if they believe they have a complaint against this company.”
Below are some tips to consider before buying a timeshare:
- Oftentimes, timeshare companies will entice consumers into their presentations with free gifts or meals. But just remember, there is no such thing as a free lunch – to receive any gifts, lunches, meals, consumers will have to sit through a sales presentation, and companies are supposed to disclose this information to them when making gift offers.
- Check to see if there are any complaints against a specific timeshare company through Attorney General Herring’s searchable complaint database. If a company you’re considering has a lot of complaints against it then it may be a good idea to go with a different company.
- Be wary of timeshare offers or vacation plans in foreign countries. If you sign a contract outside the U.S. for a timeshare or vacation plan in another country you are not protected by U.S. laws.
- You may leave sales presentations at any time, especially if you are feeling rushed, pressured, or uncomfortable.
- Compare the costs of the timeshare you’re considering with the cost of renting a similar property.
- Evaluate the location and the quality of the resort.
- There is no rush: timeshares can be expensive and contracts lengthy. You may demand time to think about purchases and to review documents. Thoroughly read contracts before you sign them so that you know what you’re getting into, and, if possible, have a lawyer look over the contracts as well.
- Be cautious about financing. If you can’t afford a timeshare purchase, companies may propose financing on expensive terms, like 10-year loans at a 12-20% annual percentage rate.
- Ask about maintenance fees. Timeshare purchases often require expensive annual maintenance fees, sometimes over $800 per year, and these fees continue so long as consumers own the timeshare or timeshare points.
- Ask about your ability to cancel the contract. Be aware that for timeshare purchases in Virginia, you have seven calendar days to cancel a contract, and if the seventh day falls on Sunday or holiday, the following day as well. Other states have similar laws governing sales in their state.”
And beware of some companies promising to get you out a timeshare contract. Often it comes with a hefty price and The American Resort Development Association is warning consumers about fraud in the exiting industry. ARDA has launched a public awareness campaign.
The BBB has heard complaints. Moore told 8News, “A lot of these companies have an arm in each. They sell you the properties and they have a satellite firm that will then try to buy the properties back at a greatly reduced fireplace sale price. So, they get you coming and they get you going.”
In the interim, if you are considering a vacation this spring break, the BBB has advice for planning your next family vacation and avoiding potential scams by clicking here.