HARRISBURG – Attorney General Tom Corbett today announced that more than $60,000 in restitution checks have been sent to consumers who filed valid complaints about deceptive “contests” and other advertising promotions conducted by BlueGreen Corporation, of Boca Raton, Florida.
Corbett said the payments are intended to compensate consumers for “free gift” or incentives they were promised as part of the marketing and sale of timeshare properties and vacation packages in Pennsylvania. A total of $60,533 is being distributed to consumers.
“Consumers were promised a wide variety of ‘free’ items, including airline tickets, hotel accommodations, cruise packages, gas cards, restaurant gift certificates and other valuable prizes,” Corbett said. “For most people, the promise of a ‘valuable prize’ turned out to be nothing more than vouchers or coupons that required other expensive purchases before they could be used, or were limited by massive ‘fine print’ restrictions.”
Corbett noted that the restitution payment was part of a consumer protection settlement that was reached with BlueGreen Corporation earlier this year. The settlement, known as a consent decree, was approved by Commonwealth Court in June 2010.
Corbett added that the Bureau of Consumer Protection is also reviewing more than 100 outstanding complaints from Pennsylvania owners of BlueGreen timeshare properties and purchasers of BlueGreen vacation packages.
“A major part of this settlement involves an agreement by BlueGreen to cancel contracts and/or pay refunds to consumers who have filed valid complaints about their timeshare purchases,” Corbett said. “We continue to evaluate all complaints from consumers who were unable to use their timeshares, as well as situations where false promises were made about when or where consumers could travel or where timeshare purchasers did not receive extra services or discounts that were promised during sales presentations.”
The settlement also included payments for consumers who filed complaints with the Attorney General’s Office about violations of the state’s Do Not Call law. Corbett explained that under the provisions of the state’s Do Not Call law, consumers can receive up to $100 when they file a complaint that results in a lawsuit or fines against a company charged with telemarketing violations. A total of 29 people filed Do Not Call complaints about improper BlueGreen calls and each of those consumers has been sent a $100 check.
“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.
Corbett explained that under the terms of the settlement, 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 Pennsylvania’s 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 timeshare vacation packages 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.