Westgate Resorts Penalized for Decitful TacticsJanuary 27th, 2009
Pay-Back Time for Westgate Resorts: Notorious timeshare company ordered to make amends.
Since Utah Stories last reported on the state of timeshare scandals, Westgate, the seemingly largest offender in the industry, has been slapped with a $1 million judgment from a Utah court and been forced to lay off workers and scale back sales efforts in the face of a floundering economy. Westgate, one of the largest timeshare conglomerates in the industry, has been investigated repeatedly over the past several years due to voluminous consumer complaints regarding fraudulent sales practices and misleading promises of rewards for attending a sales presentation.
The $1 million in punitive damages was awarded by a Utah County court in response to a consumer complaint brought by 15 couples claiming that Westgate enticed them to attend sales presentations with faulty travel vouchers worth nearly 1/6th of the promised value. Prospective buyers were offered travel vouchers worth approximately $500; however, after attempting to use the vouchers, most people discovered that the vouchers were all but worthless -- one couple who refused to be scammed without a fight, spent over one year and hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket in order to redeem the full value of the voucher.
According to The Timeshare Authority, an attorney representing The Consumer Protection Group, explains how the company defrauded customers, "They weren't telling them they were getting a voucher; they were telling them they were getting an Anaheim trip," explained attorney Scott Boyd, who qualified that the trip was supposed to include air travel and lodging and have a value of approximately $500. Boyd added, "For all timeshares, they have to get bodies through the door so they can do the sales. How different companies choose to get people through the door may tell you who's reputable and who's not so reputable in the industry."
Utahans aren't the only ones being scammed by timeshare companies. According to scambusters.org one timeshare scam in England involved people being told they had either won a sports boat with an outboard motor, a car, or £1000. To claim what they'd won, all they had to do was attend a presentation. When they arrived at the presentation, everyone had won the sports boat. All they had to do was pay £49.99 for delivery. The 'prize' they received was a toy dinghy with a small motor -- not a real boat.
Other scams include having to pay an 'administration fee' for a vacation, or having the company 'go out of business' after they take your deposit. Another ploy is that attendees are told they can sell the timeshare they already own -- at a very attractive price. However, the sale does not occur... so they are now stuck with two timeshares!
In addition to the judgment, Westgate (along with other timeshare companies such as Hyatt, Hilton, and Bluegreen Timeshares) has seen major layoffs in recent months. Westgate laid off nearly 3,000 employees in 2008, and is looking at cutting almost 1,000 more jobs in 2009. While most timeshare companies feeling the pinch say that the cutbacks should be over after January, the timing made for a less-than-happy holiday for thousands of people across the country.
Here are some things you should avoid to keep from being scammed:
- Don't ever, ever buy (or sell) 'on the spot.' Sleep on it, and take the time to evaluate whether the deal is a good one.
- If you are offered a prize as an incentive, read the 'fine print' on the prize, and DON'T PAY for anything.
- Read the contract and have it reviewed by an attorney. If the sales person promised you something that's not in the contract, don't sign the contract!
- If the presentation is too high pressure, leave. You have every right to leave when you want. Simply stand up and politely say 'thank you very much but we're leaving now.' Then go -- don't let them argue with you.
- Ask for references -- and call them. Ask for folks who have been happy and unhappy with the previous service.
- Don't ever call a 1-900 number to book a trip -- it's very likely a scam.
- Consider a timeshare the same way you'd consider any other real estate investment. Do research and educate yourself on the market and the value.
Utah Stories has written several other articles on timeshare scams by Westgate Resorts. Our first installment Holywood Dreams and Timeshare Nightmares was one of our most popular stories in 2008. Utah Stories is currently working on organizing people for a class-action lawsuite again Westgate's practices of blatently lying to customers about value, benefits and yearly maintenance fees. We have collected stories from over 20 people who are trapped in timeshares they can't afford to use.