HARRISBURG, PA (June 21, 2010) — Attorney General Tom Corbett has urged Pennsylvania residents who are having problems involving timeshares purchased from BlueGreen Corporation to file formal complaints by June 24th in order to have those complaints reviewed as part of a wide-reaching consumer protection settlement with the Florida-based company.
Corbett said the settlement addresses complaints about the company’s alleged use of deceptive “contests,” misleading sales presentations and improper contracts for timeshare vacation packages marketed and sold in Pennsylvania. The agreement resolved a lawsuit filed by the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection against BlueGreen Corp., BlueGreen Resorts, BlueGreen Vacations Unlimited, Inc. and Great Vacations Destinations, Inc., all of Boca Raton, Florida.
“A major part of this settlement involves the possible cancellation of BlueGreen contracts, along with the payment of refunds, for Pennsylvania consumers who have filed valid complaints about their timeshare purchases,” Corbett noted. “Those complaints include consumers who were unable to use their timeshare, false promises about when or where consumers could travel and situations where timeshare purchasers did not receive extra services or discounts that were promised during sales presentations.”
Corbett explained that the settlement applies to complaints by Pennsylvania timeshare purchasers who have already been filed with the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General, along with any new complaints filed by June 24, 2010.
“Many of the complaints already filed with our office involve consumers who spent thousands of dollars for vacation packages they have not been able to use,” Corbett said. “This part of the settlement could result in substantial refunds to consumers, depending on the nature of the problems and the total number of additional complaints we receive before the filing deadline.”
Corbett said the settlement also includes payments for consumers who were promised various “free gifts,” including airline tickets, hotel accommodations, gas cards and other valuable prizes. In most circumstances, the ‘free gifts’ or ‘valuable prizes’ were actually vouchers or coupons that required other expensive purchases before they could be used, or were limited by massive “fine print” restrictions.
“As part of this consumer protection agreement, BlueGreen has paid $125,000, which will be used to compensate Pennsylvania people who were deceived about “free” prizes – so consumers who filed valid complaints will get a check for the value of the item they were promised,” Corbett said. Additionally, consumers who have filed complaints alleging violations of Pennsylvania’s Do Not Call law will receive a payment under the settlement.
Corbett said consumers who have not yet filed complaints about misleading or unfair marketing of BlueGreen timeshares or customers who were deceived about “free gifts” and prizes have until June 24th to submit a complaint to the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. Consumers who have already filed complaints with the Attorney General’s Office, either before or after the initial lawsuit was filed in October 2008, do not need to take any further action to have their claims considered as part of this settlement.
Consumers with complaints can call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline, at 1-800-441-2555, or submit an online complaint using the Attorney General’s website, at www.attorneygeneral.gov (Click on the “Complaints” button on the front page of the website and select the “Consumer Complaint Form”).
“This is a substantial settlement for Pennsylvania, in terms of the money it returns to consumers who were victims of deceptive sales, along with the protection it offers future timeshare buyers,” Corbett said. “BlueGreen has agreed to change its businesses practices to eliminate future confusion about consumer rights involving timeshare purchases, to stop using misleading advertisements about free gifts or prizes and to make certain that any future telemarketing calls fully comply with our Do Not Call law.”
The Consent Decree was filed in Commonwealth Court by Senior Deputy Attorney General David Sumner.
Corbett encouraged consumers who are shopping for a timeshare vacation package to consider the following tips:
- Take your time. Treat a timeshare purchase like the purchase of a home or any other significant commitment. Don’t let high pressure sales tactics and long presentations force you into a hasty decision.
- Do your research. Check the market and the value of the vacation property before you buy and investigate the seller, the developer and the management company. Ask for references and contact current owners to verify their satisfaction with the property.
- Know the cancellation period. Pennsylvania provides a five-day cooling off period for buyers to change their mind and cancel a timeshare contract. Consumers must notify the seller in writing via certified mail or return receipt mail.
- Recognize that timeshares can be difficult to resell. Buy a timeshare only if you plan to use it. It is an option for future vacations, not an investment.
- Consider extra costs. Most timeshares require consumers to pay annual assessment fees, maintenance fees and taxes, closing and broker commissions, and finance charges. Some fees can rise dramatically in the future so it’s important to ask if there is a cap on future fees.
- Beware of scams. If you are offered a prize as an incentive to attend a timeshare presentation, ask for details and watch out for hidden conditions and fine print. Keep in mind that the value of promotional gifts may be low in comparison to the fees and charges associated with a timeshare purchase. Any ‘free’ travel or vacations you are offered may have blackout dates and other restrictions.
- Read everything before you sign. Carefully review contracts and all other paperwork before you sign anything, and get all special promises about discounts, waived fees or other promotions in writing.
Consumers with questions or complaints involving timeshares can call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline, at 1-800-441-2555, or submit an online complaint at www.attorneygeneral.gov.
SOURCE: Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General