Misconduct in the timeshare relief realm is nothing new. It’s tough for vacation owners looking to escape perpetuity. The internet has simply made it easier for criminals to scam and consumers to read about it. But greed has been prevalent since the beginning stages of fractional ownership. While today’s crackdown on nearly every single timeshare exit program is encouraging, there was a time when consumers were limited by legalities. Things began to change earlier this decade when the FTC took legal action against a major player, Edward Lee Windsor.
How Windsor’s Operation Defrauded Timeshare Owners.
By 2012, Information Management Forum Inc. (IMF) had deceived thousands of vacation owners by manipulating them to consider recouping portions of their purchase. Some were even led to believe they could remove their financial obligation by selling their timeshare quickly. Windsor and his team initiated the scam by cold-calling deeded property owners and harassing them about eager renters and buyers. But they didn’t just make claims.
The fraudulent operation went as far as detailing the types of renters and buyers they supposedly had at their fingertips. Victims of the scam were told IMF had professional relationships with prominent corporations that had pressing needs for available timeshares. PepsiCo and Home Depot were some of the major brands mentioned during phone conversations.
What IMF Was Offering Didn’t Really Exist.
While Windsor’s timeshare exit program made an effort to protect themselves, the phone script (that was filed with the court) was very telling. The introduction was strategically conveyed to make owners believe the opportunity carried weight. “What we do is market and advertise the rental and sale of resort properties to corporations who use them for conventions, training seminars, employee perks, business trips as well as their own vacation time.”
Their demise was inevitable once their telemarketing approach involved false claims. The script went on to say, “The reason that I’ve been calling you is because this weekend there is going to be a major event. We currently have over 700 corporate buyers and renters coming into town for this event.” Not only did Windsor’s phony timeshare exit program create a sense of urgency but a misleading guarantee. But their aggressive, unethical approach didn’t stop there.
They went on to specify that these business professionals were willing to pay $1,800 in weekly rental fees or $18,500 for the timeshare mortgage in the next 90 days. Talk about a huge opportunity to cash in on a purchase that might not be worthwhile. In order to combat disinterest, the scam promised to provide full refunds to those that didn’t benefit from IMF’s program within a certain period of time.
All the owner needed to do was front the timeshare exit program anywhere from $500-$2k to get started. Profits were said to be available shortly after payments were processed. But IMF didn’t follow through with anything. While they might have been advertising to potential audiences, they couldn’t really guarantee that interested parties existed. When complaints began to pile up for IMF, Windsor simply changed the company name to Vacation Property Marketing (VPM) and continued making calls.
False Claims Buried the Phony Timeshare Exit Program
The paper trail of deceit finally caught up to the fraudulent operation when a multitude of timeshare owners began demanding a refund. Despite some victims receiving small portions back, Windsor’s team went out of their way to drag out the process and fight all chargebacks in an attempt to protect the business. They were adamant that payments went towards ads on the website “onlinevpm.com.” But even this URL screams scam.
After hundreds of consumers filed complaints, the FTC had heard enough. Backed by Pam Bondi (the Florida Attorney General) they took legal action against Edward Windsor and his fraudulent timeshare exit programs. After a continued denial of refunds, the plaintiff asked the court to halt all operations (for IMF and VPM) and to freeze the defendant’s assets “pending further investigation.”
This monumental case saw the defendant prosecuted for violating the FTC’s Telemarketing Sales Rule, the FTC Act and Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. The commission was unanimous in their vote to file the complaint and pursue charges. Multiple consumer protection agencies came together to ban the phony timeshare exit program from telemarketing and providing resale services for fractional owners moving forward.
As a result, $319k was eventually mailed to reported victims of the scam.