This is a very hot topic. Timeshare owners across the USA are receiving unsolicited phone calls or a postcard sized invitation in the mail (hence the name ‘Postcard Companies‘, or PCCs), etc. to attend an ‘educational seminar’ at a well known hotel under the guise that they will be able to rid themselves of their timeshare(s). Other aka’s for such companies include timeshare transfer, cancellation, relief, rescue, disposal and so on.
In either situation (phone call or ‘postcard’) the ambiguously worded promise is that the company will “offer a guaranteed timeshare exit solution that will provide 100% satisfaction and leave you timeshare free forever.”
The outcome of attending the conference (or calls) is that these companies are telling owners why they need to get rid of their timeshare interests (often using scare tactics and/or misinformation).
By the end of the presentation, the timeshare owners are asked to cough up, in advance, anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000 or more to get out of their timeshare plan(s). That’s right: The timeshare owner(s) pay THEM, not the other way around!
There is not anything wrong with the basic concept behind this scheme. There are legitimate reasons, legitimate times when it might be a reasonable solution for some desperate timeshare owners to pay someone to do this for them. But the process must be transparent, the fees reasonable and the end result favorable for everyone. It isn’t the business that is objectionable, it’s the particular misleading and deceptive business practices of most transfer companies that make them the target of governmental consumer protection authorities.
This postcard approach originated decades ago in what is known as a ‘table buy-back’ scheme. It became widespread in Mexico and other offshore locations when timeshare owners would attend a sales presentation and at the end of it they would basically state (e.g.) “Sure, we’d like to join but we have that darned Timeshare in Florida we need to get rid of…”
Then the sales rep would make an ‘offer’ to take it in on trade towards the new timeshare plan, would drop the purchase price of that plan to reflect the alleged ‘trade-in’ value and when all was said and done the owners returned home only to discover they were now saddled with both the new timeshare and the one they thought they had ‘traded-in’.
It was the table buy-back (aka: trade-in) scheme that ultimately led some creative types to realize that timeshare owners would be willing to pay someone else to take their ‘time’ off their hands. Back in the late 1990s when this approach started, the first companies then charged around $400 to allegedly eliminate the timeshare owners’ rights, uses, benefits and future financial obligations of their timeshare.
Back then, as is the case today, too often the timeshare owner paid the fee only to discover later they still owned their time. The modus operandi for most of the early postcard companies was to collect the fees but delay the title transfer until/unless they were able to sell the interval (often on eBay for pennies, using a disguised but related company).
On those occasions when the interval was not sold before the next maintenance fees came due, or if the resort declined to take it back via a quit claim deed, the companies simply abandoned the interval(s).
The owners often did not discover that they still owned it until they were billed for the next cycle of maintenance/HOA fees, often resulting in overdue maintenance fee penalties and taxes in addition to the high out-of-pocket fee a consumer had already paid to the postcard company.
Today there are companies that do seem to at least occasionally take the timeshare owners’ inventory off their hands (many of them have a power of attorney available for the owners to sign on the spot when they pay their fee) and a full transfer of title, etc. may occur.
However, unlike their predecessors this new breed of ‘postcard’ companies are charging thousands of dollars for their services and their deceptive trade practices are drawing the attention of both Federal and State judicial and regulatory agencies.
A case in point is the former company called Vacation Ownership Group, aka VO Group. This company was owned by husband/wife team Adam and Ashley Lacerda. In July 2010, law enforcement officers began investigating the company, and in April 2012 the Lacerdas and seven others were arrested on charges of mail and wire fraud, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and conspiracy to commit money laundering in a $2.6 million timeshare mortgage fraud case involving some 225 alleged victims. Another seven individuals eventually rounded out the number of persons accused in the scheme.
The Lacerdas were interviewed by law enforcement well before they were arrested so they had plenty of lead time to prepare themselves. They continued with their business, VO Group, until early April 2012, at which time they formed and incorporated a new company, VO Financial Corporation, and let VO Group die a natural death. (That occurred shortly before they were arrested.) VO Financial is essentially the same company, with some more sophisticated variations.
On May 14, 2012 Ashley Lacerda, Francis Santore, and Brian Corley were arraigned in a 29-count case in Camden, NJ federal court. They were the first to be arraigned in the case. Adam Lacerda, Steven Cox, Alfred Giordano, and Joseph Diventi were arraigned May 21, 2012.
The Lacerdas were charged with multiple counts of mail fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. If you want real details, you can read the official complaint here (a .pdf file) or FBI Special Agent John J. Mesisca’s affidavit here (It’s a doozy!)
[updated 09/12/2013] In January 2013 they were re-indicted on a 44-count superseding indictment. Over the course of the year 13 employees pled guilty to various counts of fraud. The trial of the final five defendants — Adam Lacerda, Ashley Lacerda, Ian Resnick, Genevieve Manzoni and Joseph DiVenti — began on July 22 and lasted seven weeks. All but DiVenti were found guilty. You can read the details here: Update on the Conviction of Four VO Group Timeshare Fraud Defendants
A less dramatic case in point is Timeshare Relief (and its several associated companies). Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell filed a legal action against Timeshare Relief for deceptive trade practices, the result of which is that in July 2010 Timeshare Relief agreed to refund in excess of $91,000 to Vermont consumers. You can find details of this action here: Second Timeshare Repurchaser Settles With Attorney General.
Other companies associated with Timeshare Relief (you might say that Timeshare Relief is the “Parent” company) include Transfer Smart, Transfer America, Transfer on the Spot and Right Choice Transfer.
You can also find out more about this company and its owners in Woody’s Roadkill Cafe, where they were awarded a Dead Skunk Award for their practices.
Most recently their company USA Timeshare Relief began to offer the same services for fractional ownership, and the wording of their press announcement for that is every bit as ambiguous as it is for their other companies.
Besides Timeshare Relief, other well known postcard companies (aka transfer companies or repurchasers) include: Vacation Solutions; We Collect Timeshares; Apex Professionals; Timeshare Independence; and Timeshare Rescue. There are several others as well, and they are proliferating rapidly.
And keep in mind that still, as in years gone by, there are postcard companies that just take the money and run, no legal and duly recorded transfer of ownership occurs and the owners are still obligated for their timeshare costs, etc. Even the American Resort Development Association (ARDA) has issued a warning about postcard companies.
There are other options available to owners wishing to sell, including companies selling full ownership properties, homes, etc., throughout the USA that do allow up to a full retail trade-in value of a timeshare owner’s inventory, which value is applied to the purchase of a retirement home, a second home or raw land.
There are even a small number of timeshare resale/rental companies that will outright purchase an owner’s timeshare (depending on the resort, inventory, time of year, etc.), no strings attached.
In such cases, although the companies clearly state they may only offer a couple hundred (or more) dollars, at least the timeshare owners know what to expect, do rid themselves of their timeshare and future expenses and can put a few bucks in their pockets instead of paying out thousands of dollars to essentially accomplish the same goal with a ‘postcard’ company.
Bottom Line: When contacted (cold-called) by any company offering the ‘postcard’ service the prudent timeshare owner should first refer to the “Spotting A Scam” section herein before they decide to attend a conference/seminar or, worse, simply agreeing to the terms and conditions through an unsolicited phone sales pitch that ultimately ends with the timeshare owner agreeing to the service and then providing the caller their banking or credit card information, etc.