Complaint Alleges Company Charged Consumers Thousands in Upfront Fees for Bogus Timeshare Rental and Resale Services and Refused to Honor Its Money Back Guarantee When It Failed to Deliver
NEWARK – Acting Attorney General Andrew J. Bruck and the Division of Consumer Affairs today announced the filing of a lawsuit in Essex County Superior Court against a New Jersey company and its owner for allegedly defrauding consumers who paid thousands of dollars each for timeshare rental and resale services that were never provided, and failing to honor its advertised 180-day money back guarantee.
Williams Andrews Burns LLC (WAB), and its principal, William O’Hanlon, allegedly operated a telemarketing scam that preyed on timeshare owners, many of whom were senior citizens and many of whom had already been victimized by prior scams.
The five-count Complaint alleges defendants collected payments in advance from consumers, in amounts ranging from $594 to $2,899, in exchange for the company’s promise to rent or resell their timeshares and provide thousands of dollars in guaranteed income, or provide a full refund. However, the Division has been unable to identify a single consumer who received any rental or sale income, and most clients seeking refunds never received their money back.
“New Jersey has strong laws to protect consumers and today’s action should send a clear signal to those who prey on the most vulnerable,” said Acting Attorney General Bruck. “Fraudsters who take advantage of our residents and our seniors will face serious consequences.”
“As the complaint alleges, the defendants’ unconscionable business practices are no more than a scheme to defraud elderly consumers, many of whom had already lost money to other timeshare scams,” said Sean P. Neafsey, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “We are committed to do everything that we can to protect consumers by precluding dishonest individuals and companies from doing business in the State.”
The Division began its investigation after reviewing more than 50 consumer complaints alleging WAB used high pressure tactics and misrepresentations to persuade consumers to pay large upfront fees that were collected over the phone. To date, the investigation has revealed more than 100 complaints from consumers around the country, some of them from elderly consumers that did not even own timeshares. In one instance, the company collected $2,865 from a 94-year-old consumer to rent a timeshare the consumer no longer owned, and on another occasion convinced an elderly consumer that had never owned a timeshare to pay $1,999 for rental services.
The Complaint also alleges that defendants offered unwanted collections services to consumers who purchased rental or resale services—without requesting or disclosing an additional fee—and later claimed that consumers’ payments for rental or resale services were in fact payments for collections services. As part of these collections services, which defendants characterized as an additional benefit for its rental and resale services customers, defendants promised to recover money for consumers from companies that operated other timeshare-related scams. Instead, the company tried to obtain chargebacks from consumers’ credit card companies by fraudulently posing as a friend of the cardholder helping to review past statements and demanding chargebacks for alleged unauthorized transactions.
The State alleges the defendants violated the Consumer Fraud Act and advertising regulations by engaging in conduct that included:
- representing on phone calls to consumers that WAB would rent or sell the timeshares and provide that income to the consumers, when such was not the case;
- withdrawing funds from consumer bank accounts without authorization to do so;
- advertising in emails, text messages, and telemarketing calls a money back guarantee, but then refusing to provide requested refunds when they failed to rent or resale consumers’ timeshares;
- offering collections services to consumers who purchased rental or sale services without requesting or disclosing an additional fee and later claiming that consumers’ payments were in fact for collections services;
- publicly posting on a WAB social media page a consumer’s personal information, including the credit card number, date of birth, partial social security number, and security question answers after that consumer filed a complaint against WAB; and
- representing on phone calls to consumers that WAB, in exchange for a fee, would recover restitution payments from governmental agencies, i.e., the FTC and a state attorney general’s office, when such was not the case.
In addition to seeking restitution on behalf of defrauded consumers, the State’s suit seeks to impose monetary penalties for the defendants’ alleged unlawful and deceptive commercial practices, to terminate WAB’s business registration, to recover attorney’s fees and investigative costs, to bar any ongoing or future unfair and deceptive business practices by the defendants, and to restrict O’Hanlon’s business activities in New Jersey.
Deputy Attorneys General Stephanie M. Asous, Monica E. Finke, and Erica Salerno of the Consumer Fraud Prosecution Section within the Division of Law’s Affirmative Civil Enforcement Practice Group, represent the State in the matter. Investigator Walter Kaminski of the Office of Consumer Protection within the Division of Consumer Affairs conducted the investigation.
Consumers who paid WAB for timeshare rental or resale services that were not provided or those who believe that they have been cheated or scammed by a business, or suspect any other form of consumer abuse, can file an online complaint with the Division by visiting its website or by calling 1-800-242-5846 to receive a complaint form by mail.
The mission of the Division of Consumer Affairs, within the Department of Law and Public Safety, is to protect the public from fraud, deceit, misrepresentation and professional misconduct in the sale of goods and services in New Jersey through education, advocacy, regulation and enforcement. The Division pursues its mission through its 51 professional and occupational boards that oversee 720,000 licensees in the state, its Regulated Business section that oversees 60,000 NJ registered businesses, as well as through its Office of Consumer Protection, Bureau of Securities, Charities Registration section, Office of Weights and Measures, and Legalized Games of Chance section.