From Illinois Business Journal news services
Several Illinois consumers are among those claiming to have been tricked out of thousands of dollars each in an apparent national timeshare marketing scheme that has victimized hundreds of people over the past three years, Better Business Bureau said today.
BBB warns timeshare owners to be extremely cautious of telemarketers inviting them to attend informational meetings at local hotels or restaurants.
“These people need to be stopped,” said a woman from Wentzville, Mo., who says she and her husband lost $8,000 to a group of salespeople they met at a restaurant in St. Peters.
“They need to be in jail,” her husband added, during an interview with the BBB.
Several businesses appear to be connected to the scheme, including R & R Venture Group, Cornerstone Processing and Point Rental Liquidators, all of Las Vegas; Excess Property Solutions of Morris, Ill., Travel Services Group of Elmhurst, Ill., and Extensive Travel Solutions of Kingwood, Texas, the BBB says.
The bureau said officials tied to the companies include Robert Guy Russell and his wife, Nonna N. Russell, of Las Vegas; Brandon J. “B.J.” Cooke of Marseilles, Ill.; and Brian Patrick Thompson of Kingwood, Texas.
Complaints vary, but most consumers told BBB they initially received a phone call asking them to attend a timeshare update meeting at a restaurant or hotel in their area. In some cases, the callers indicated that they were connected with RCI, the world’s largest timeshare exchange company. In other cases, the callers said they wanted to help timeshare owners “enhance” their ability to schedule future timeshare dates.
Consumers said that once they arrived at the meetings, representatives delivered sales pitches designed to convince them that the companies could help them sell accumulated timeshare points and/or dramatically improve their timeshare experience, including their ability to schedule timeshare vacations.
In nearly every case, complainants said the representatives convinced them to pay several thousand dollars for services. Most consumers who complained to BBB said they never received anything for their money and have been unable to get refunds.
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said the number of complainants and the financial losses appear to be staggering.
“These aren’t cases of a few people losing a few hundred dollars,” Corey said. “People across the nation have reported losing $8,000, $10,000 and more. People have been hurt and are continuing to be hurt by this scheme.”
BBB believes the scheme may involve hundreds of timeshare owners and total losses in the millions of dollars.
A couple from Granite City, said they responded to a solicitation phone call last year, asking them to attend a meeting at a restaurant in Edwardsville about selling points accumulated in a timeshare they had purchased in Branson.
They said they met with two men – one identifying himself as William Crawford, regional director of a company called Travel Enhancement Consulting, and the other identifying himself as Daniel Harpo Giacomini, a resident of Ottawa, Ill., who said he was a broker/salesman for Vacation Services International of Ohio.
The Granite City couple said they ultimately paid $9,400 to Cornerstone Processing in February 2014, after the salesmen promised they would send them a check for $13,000 in December. The couple said they never received anything from their investment and now cannot reach anyone with the related businesses.
A woman from New Baden said she paid Cornerstone nearly $10,000 at the same meeting. She said the sales representatives also promised her that she would receive $13,000 in December, but she has received nothing.
Nevada registration records identify Nonna and Robert G. Russell of Las Vegas as the managing members of Cornerstone. Robert Russell is also listed as the manager and registered agent of R & R Venture Group, another company that has come under criticism from consumers who said they paid thousands of dollars for timeshare services, but received nothing. Most recently, Nonna Russell has been listed as an officer of Nexus Network and Recovery of Las Vegas, another company in the timeshare industry.
BBB said it has been unable to reach the Russells, Crawford or Giacomini.
Several complainants who lost money to Cornerstone and R & R said they dealt with Thompson, who described himself as a regional sales manager. Thompson currently serves as CEO of Extensive Travel Solutions, a company that is the focus of similar complaints from timeshare owners who said they paid between $6,000 and $9,000, but received nothing in return, the BBB said
In a March 2015 letter to BBB, Thompson said he left R & R after “I was made aware of business practices that I disagreed strongly with.” BBB said it has been unable to reach Thompson since then.
In 2013, RCI sued several of the businesses in federal court for trademark infringement, accusing them of fraudulently using RCI’s name.
In February, a U.S. District Court judge in Orlando, Fla., ordered that R & R, Point Rental Liquidators, Excess Property Solutions and Cooke stop misrepresenting an affiliation with RCI and stop contacting RCI timeshare members in an effort to have the members “discontinue, modify or otherwise interfere with their relationship with RCI.” The order also barred Cooke and the businesses from fraudulently using RCI’s name in affiliation with any company tied to the Russells. BBB said it has been unable to reach Cooke.
BBB offers the following tips if you are contacted by mail or phone inviting you to a seminar or a free dinner:
– Be wary of free offers to attend events at a local hotel or restaurant. In most cases, the point of the meeting is to try to sell you something.
– If you are considering accepting an invitation, find out who is running the event and the names of any businesses involved. Check the company’s BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org or by calling (314) 645-3300.
– Make sure you read over any agreement carefully before signing anything or paying any money. If you have any concerns, ask to read over the contract at home or show it to a friend or attorney.
– Ask for references and contact them.
– Pay by credit card whenever possible, in case you need to challenge the charge.
Information taken from a release provided by the Better Business Bureau of Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois.