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.
That is a key finding of a four-month investigation of the controversial industry by Better Business Bureau serving eastern and southwest Missouri and southern Illinois. Southwest Missouri has a large number of timeshares because of its proximity to Branson, a popular vacation destination.
The study, titled “Timeshare Exit Trap: A Better Business Bureau Study on How Southwest Missouri’s Notorious Timeshare Relief Operators Victimized Hundreds of Timeshare Owners Across the U.S.,” reports BBB has logged more than 350 consumer complaints against 10 of the most active Springfield-area timeshare exit businesses between Jan. 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. Two of these businesses are headed by Brian Scroggs and account for more than $670,000 in reported losses. One couple, in their 80s, told BBB they have received nothing after paying one of Scroggs’ companies $18,000 on promises that the business would get them out of their timeshare.
“We live on Social Security and a pension, and we can’t do this,” the wife told BBB, referring to monthly credit card payments of $400 she and her husband are making to pay off the debt.
Michelle Corey, BBB St. Louis president and CEO, called the victimization of timeshare owners by unscrupulous timeshare exit operators “a national disgrace.”
“Many of these people are senior citizens desperately trying to unload timeshares with high maintenance fees they no longer need and no longer want,” Corey said. “Any business that would take these people’s money and then not follow through with its promises is behaving both irresponsibly and unethically.”
The study highlights several cases in which timeshare owners paid exit businesses 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 about the Missouri timeshare and vacation industry as a whole. That study reported questionable marketing and sales practices by some representatives of the timeshare industry, and noted that many timeshare owners were turning to timeshare exit 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 exit companies.
The report concludes that seniors and timeshare owners on fixed incomes “are falling victim to timeshare exit companies at an alarming rate. Many of these companies either do not have the expertise or the ethics to follow through with promises to extricate their clients from the often burdensome lifetime timeshare contracts.”
• 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.
• Although BBB generally discourages hiring a third party to negotiate timeshare relief, consumers who go that route should be very careful in selecting 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 the third party 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 might 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.