We all know the saying: "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." Yet, despite being aware of this concept, many of us fail to heed the advice of this anecdotal saying. A prime example of a "too good to be true" scenario that many people fall victim to is the timeshare or "vacation club" membership.
Often times vacationers are lured into what is advertised as a "brief presentation" by a vacation company in exchange for a free dinner, complementary show tickets, or some other form of a gift. While some people are disciplined enough to get their gift and then get out the door, other individuals find themselves powerless against the promises of being able to vacation "all over the world" for "ultra-low prices."
What starts out as an exciting investment in your family's future vacation adventures can quickly turn into a nightmare of unending maintenance fees and unforeseen costs. Further, often times those tales of world travel turn out to be nothing more than empty promises designed to induce consumers into purchasing a membership.
So you have purchased a timeshare or vacation club membership only to realize that you were a victim of fraud - what are your options? Well, the answer depends on how soon after the purchase date you realized you were duped.
The Missouri Merchandising Practices Act ("MMPA") allows a consumer to rescind a timeshare purchase contract within five days of entering into the contract; this is generally done by indicating your desire to rescind or cancel the contract in writing, and then mailing the rescission letter to home office of the vacation company. Section 407.620 RSMo. Purchasers of vacation club memberships, however, are only afforded a three-day rescission period under the MMPA - unless the vacation club was not registered under Sections 407.1240-407.1252 RSMO., in which case the rescission period is three years. Section 407.1249 RSMo.
It is important to note that a decision to rescind a contract should always be made in writing. Besides the fact the statute requires a rescission to be in writing, the failure to document your rescission attempt could result in a "he said, she said" scenario later down the road if the vacation company refuses to honor the rescission attempt.
If you find yourself outside of the rescission period, which is more often time the case, you still have options available to you. A commonly used, and somewhat recent service is a timeshare disposal or timeshare re-sale service. Timeshare disposal companies advertise the ability to get you out of your timeshare and end future maintenance fees; however, you should be wary of these services as they are often times just as bad as the timeshare companies themselves. If you choose the wrong company, you could find yourself in a situation where you have paid the costs of the timeshare disposal company's services, yet you are still receiving maintenance fees from the timeshare companies. It is not uncommon for timeshare resale companies to accept your deeded timeshare interest, but then never record the deed; this has the effect of keeping you on the hook for all maintenance fees until the deed is recorded and ownership of the interest is transferred to another person or entity.
If you are not willing to risk the timeshare re-sale route, another other option is to contact an attorney to seek rescission of the contract based upon fraud. While this can often times be a costly option, many times it is the best option. Sometimes, an attorney can rescind your timeshare contract by simply writing a letter to the timeshare company. While this is not always the case, often times timeshare companies would rather refund your money instead of incurring attorneys' fees through litigation. Unfortunately, though, sometimes litigation is the only way to get rid of your timeshare interest.
While most people loathe litigation - mostly because of the costs and headache associated with retaining an attorney to litigate a timeshare fraud case - it can be an extremely effective method of canceling your timeshare or vacation club membership. Fortunately for those individuals who are forced to litigate, the MMPA allows victims of timeshare fraud to request a reimbursement of attorneys' fees incurred through the litigation process. Section 407.025 RSMo.
Another option for victims of timeshare fraud is to contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division. While the Attorney General's office cannot act as your personal attorney, if enough complaints are brought against a specific vacation company, the Attorney General will initiate an investigation of the business practices of said company, which could result in the Attorney General initiating a class action lawsuit. While this option is not likely to get you out of your timeshare membership, it is far less costly than bringing a lawsuit on your own, and could result in you receiving a portion of any settlement proceeds awarded in a class action lawsuit.
While dealing with timeshare fraud can be a very difficult and frightening endeavor, fortunately there are options out there for the wronged consumer. If you find that you are a victim of timeshare fraud, and you wish to seek rescission of the contract, contact Baker Law, LLC to schedule a consultation to discuss your case.