Ask Stacy: How Do I Know If This Timeshare Company is Legit?

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Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for life. With that well-worn but useful expression in mind, let’s look at the following question…

Stacy, I watch you on our local news every morning. We have a timeshare and a company named Transfer America contacted us to take it off our hands for a fee of approximately $2,500. They have a business that buys them. The money includes title transfer, Transfer America’s fee, and the owner of the location where we have our timeshare with (Sheraton). Are these types of companies legitimate? Or are they like the companies you talked about that helps people behind in their mortgages? We’re in financial trouble and can’t afford our timeshare fees – and can’t afford to use it. Thank you.
– Kim

Here’s your answer, Kim!

I’m no fan of timeshare resale companies, and I urge extreme caution when dealing with one. See Buying or Selling a Timeshare? Read This First and How Not to Sell a Timeshare: Pay Money up Front.

But with the thousands of companies out there, certainly there must be at least a few that are legitimate. Could the one Kim’s contemplating be one of them? I had no idea.

Here’s what I did when I got Kim’s question, and what you should do as well when confronted with any consumer transaction, whatever the source…

Step One: Ask the Internet

Since I’d never heard of the company Kim is asking about, the first thing I did after reading her question was to plug this phrase into a search engine: “Transfer America Complaints.” The response from Google took .09 seconds and gave me plenty to check out.

Step Two: Investigate

While getting search results on this company took less than a tenth of a second, combing through them took a lot more time. The first reference returned was this one, from a site called complaintsboard.com. Here we find the following complaint, theoretically filed by an unhappy customer:

Transfer America AKA Timeshare Relief AKA Transfer Smart is a complete and total scam. First of all its a shell company for timeshare relief who bilks people out of up to $4000 to “get rid of” their timeshare…David MacMillan owns this company as well as 3 or 4 other brands that all do the exact same thing. They run them out a crummy little office in Torrance California…They pay huge sums to the BBB to keep their ratings up. If you look at their primary brand they have over 60 complaints and the attorney general of Vermont just fined them…

We also find a response from the company just below the complaint:

Transfer America helps thousands of clients on a weekly basis and we have an “A” BBB rating for a reason… we pride ourselves on maintaining a customer service mantra of “No unhappy client left behind…” Our secret is the love that every employee in our company has for helping people and the desire to be the best…If anyone has any questions about the integrity of our company feel free to contact me and I will personally address any issues you may have.

There’s at least one other complaint on this site about Transfer America, as well as a bunch of comments, but let’s stop here. What have we learned? Not a whole lot, but we’ve got more information to check out.

When we go to this page of the BBB website, we see that the BBB gives Transfer America an A- rating. But the main BBB site also links to a secondary BBB site called TrustLink that offers consumer reviews: It has 26 and gives Transfer America 3 of 5 stars.

As for the “primary brand” the complainer above referred to: We learn more about that from another article returned in our search: This one, from a timeshare news site. It’s a long article questioning why this company operates under several different names, including one called Time Share Relief, which has a B Rating from the BBB.

I won’t quote from the article – it’s pretty long, and there are 63 comments under it – but Kim should definitely read this.

Then there’s the Attorney General of Vermont’s action referred to above. Here’s a partial cut-and-paste from the AG’s press release:

June 29, 2010 Timeshare Relief, Inc., a Torrance, California, company, will offer over $91,000 in consumer refunds and pay $50,000 to the State of Vermont to settle claims that it violated Vermont law in three different ways in arranging for the repurchase of timeshares. Commenting on the settlement, the second of its kind in the past eight months, Vermont Attorney General William H. Sorrell again warned out-of-state companies offering a financial benefit to Vermonters not to violate the State’s consumer laws, or “they will find that doing so is an expensive proposition.”

On eight occasions between 2007 and 2010, representatives of Timeshare Relief came to Burlington to solicit consumers to transfer ownership of their unused timeshares and thus relieve the owners of timeshare maintenance fees, taxes and other costs. The company advertised these meetings with a mailing that invited Vermonters to find out about the “Guaranteed Timeshare Relief Solution.” A number of consumers who met with Timeshare Relief understood the invitation to mean that the company would offer to pay them for their timeshares; in fact, they had to pay several hundred to several thousand dollars to transfer ownership of their timeshares. The Attorney General considered this to be a deceptive trade practice.

Step Three: Go with your gut

I’ve now invested about an hour of research on this company – not nearly as much as I’d put in if I were Kim. But from what I’ve read, I’d be careful about this company.

I didn’t like their smarmy response to the complaint above, and they seem to have made a lot of people mad. In addition, they apparently only take timeshares that are “free and clear” – no mortgages allowed. Doesn’t it seem like Kim could go back to the timeshare developer and offer to give her timeshare back to them? Or use eBay or another site (see my articles above for more ideas) to simply give it away without paying a $2,500 fee? I’d certainly try that first.

Bottom line? I’d advise Kim to do a little more digging and consider other options. And for those out there in similar circumstances – or for anyone wanting to investigate any company for any reason – now you know how I do it.

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