If you buy a timeshare, take time to read through all the documents and see what you're getting into. Two retired schoolteachers are spearheading a class action lawsuit against a nationally-known resort company. They say sales agents deliberately tried to confuse vulnerable senior citizens, costing them hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Thomas and Donna Crook of Chico enjoy their vacations at San Francisco's Wyndham Canterbury Hotel. They bought a timeshare for a room there four years ago.
"I like it very much because it's centrally located, it has nice amenities," said Thomas.
However, the couple is also very troubled. They claim they were tricked into buying more timeshares for the resort and it's put them deep in debt.
"They said we owed $96,000. I was shocked!" said Donna.
Attorneys for the retired couple have filed a class action lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court against Wyndham Vacation Ownership. The suit claims Wyndham salespeople were targeting senior citizens, using deceptive practices to sell timeshares they couldn't afford.
Patricia Williams is a former salesperson at the San Francisco resort. She claims she was fired for blowing the whistle on fraudulent sales. And she isn't the only one. Williams and four other employees filed wrongful termination lawsuits in San Francisco Superior Court claiming they were forced out for complaining about fraud.
"I did report it and I was told to keep my mouth shut or I would be fired," said Marty Whitney, a former Wyndham employee.
Whitney is one of the former employees in the wrongful termination suits. She said she was shocked to find sales people tricking Donna, Thomas, and other seniors into signing contracts for more timeshares. They say sales people preyed on the elderly, who were easily overwhelmed and confused by complicated documents and fine print.
"When people would come in, they didn't know what they were signing and I was told as long as they could walk in, be on a walker, be in a wheelchair, it really didn't matter," said Whitney.
Tom and Donna were invited to listen to sales seminars when they checked in. The hotel gave them $100 or a meal in exchange. They say they got in trouble during these sales pitches.
"I never really understood what was happening," said Thomas.
Here's what the suit claims: Back in July 2010, a sales person told the couple they could qualify for a lower interest rate on their loan. There were so many papers and legal terminology the couple said they didn't read all of the papers or understand what they signed. Only later they realized they'd actually purchased more timeshares, worth another $30,000.
"I was kind of lost because they went through it so fast," said Thomas.
When they complained, another salesperson told them Wyndham would guarantee to buy back those points after 11 months if they upgraded to a higher level called "presidential reserve."
So the Crooks agreed to invest another $49,000. However, the lawsuit says, 11 months later, Wyndham rejected their request to buy back those shares. It turns out there was no guarantee to buy back points, only Wyndham's right to purchase them.
"And I'm the one that had to tell the Cooks that no, after 11 months, they won't get their money back and they will never get it back," said Whitney.
7 On You Side contacted Wyndham Vacation Ownership for a response to these claims. The company reclined to go on camera to discuss the wrongful termination case or the fraud suit. It said it does not comment on pending litigation.
However, Wyndham provided 7 On You Side with a statement saying: "Treating our employees, owners and guests properly is one of our core values, and we engage in extensive efforts to create a healthy and enriching workplace for our employees, and Dan enjoyable buying experience for our owners. Consequently, we are disappointed to learn of this filing. People of all ages and backgrounds love to vacation and the diversity of our more than 800,000 owners reflects the wide appeal of our products."
Tom and Donna now owe $95,000 on their timeshare loan, plus $500 a month in maintenance fees. They had to borrow on their Chico home to keep up the payments.
"They made it sound beautiful and we would get our money back. But after all of this, no we won't," said Donna.
The California Department of Real Estate requires timeshare companies to give you seven days to cancel a contract. Companies also must file a report with the state on exactly what the timeshare offers. However, Tom and Donna said they didn't even know they had purchased more shares until they were billed weeks later. The lesson here is do not sign a timeshare contract until you review it thoroughly and you might want to have an attorney review it as well.