Who’s to blame for this timeshare disaster?

Consumer advocate William Leeper recently accepted a “Mission Impossible” case involving a questionable timeshare purchase in Mexico. What’s that? We had you at “timeshare”? But it gets worse. Much worse. I’ll let him explain.

Today’s timeshare story comes from reader Mark Golder and the timeshare he bought — or thought he bought — from Grand Solmar in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

I’ll let him pick up the story.

The total purchase price was $21,190. We paid $11,190 down at the time. The salesman told us many things that didn’t hold true.

Here are three examples:

We could trade our week in Cabo for two full weeks anywhere else in the world.

Yearly dues would be $645 for the first year.

We could get half price on our membership to Interval International (the company that handles the swapping of weeks) if we signed up for five years.

When Golder returned to the States, he discovered these discrepancies, and contacted Grand Solmar to attempt to cancel the membership, but was told “no.” So he contacted the salesman whose email address he still had, and the salesman basically informed them that he was doing his job, and their disclosures are not clear.

Golder contacted his credit card company to initiate a chargeback.

Eventually, Grand Solmar refunded $2,000, but pocketed $1,190 as “legal” fees, and kept $8,000 as a “termination” fee.

Where did things go wrong? And what can you do to protect yourself the next time you’re invited to a timeshare presentation?

The first problem was the matter of trading weeks — one week in Cabo for two weeks “anywhere” else.

Well, that may have been what the salesman said, but in fact, he could have traded his week in Cabo for 1 ½ weeks anywhere else. Oops, did the salesman misspeak? Without any written agreement to reflect that promise, the only thing to go by is the contract. And it shows 1 ½ weeks.

On the second issue, yearly dues being $645, the contract in this case is written as follows: “Maintenance fees may be increased by “SELLER” according to inflation. The current Maintenance Fee for 2013 is $645 US Dollars.”

In this case, it would have been perfectly legal for Grand Solmar to charge a maintenance fee of $20,000 per year, and could have probably gotten away with it.

On the third issue of half price membership to Interval International for a prepayment of five years, the actual words from the salesman are, “You are right about the prepaying for five years and getting a 50 percent discount. The way that works is if you pay for 4 years you get the fifth for free. Not quite the same, but still a good deal.”

Oops once again — and in this case the salesman even admitted he fudged the truth.

Here’s a bit more from the salesman just for your reading enjoyment.

There is a lot of Information that is covered in a short period of time and in my experience a lot of what we talk about and write down on those yellow pads gets forgotten by the time that our clients get a chance to review what they purchased.

I agree with you and I think that the resort should provide more disclosure documentation regarding fees, especially for Interval International. Hopefully they will start to do that more in the future.

So, what point have I tried to make here?

Always, always, read your contract before signing it.

Everything Golder brought up in his message was based on what he was told by a salesman, and these particular points seem to have been misrepresented by the resort, or by the salesman.

In the end, Grand Solmar and the salesman both ignored my messages to them. I’ll continue to ask, but let Golder’s misfortune be a warning to all of you. If you don’t pay attention, and just idly sign here and initial there, this could happen to you, too.

William Leeper is a consumer advocate based in Waldron, Ark. He mediated this case on behalf of one of this site’s readers. If you’d like to help by becoming a volunteer mediator, .

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