Friday, September 26, 2014

Hilton Head Island: Timeshare Scam Capital of the World?

Seemingly endless complaints of timeshare fraud on the small island of Hilton Head have been relentlessly reported since at least the early 2000s. No one doubts that timeshare fraud is real and rampant; however, Federal, State, and Local governments have failed to address what has become a glaring and embarrassing blight for Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and other communities.
Is Hilton Head Island the timeshare scam capital of the World? Only the United States? Or just South Carolina? The egregiousness of the reported fraudulent activity and overwhelming numbers of reported timeshare fraud are astonishing, startling, and just plain shameful.

Before the internet became widely used and easily accessible, timeshare companies could conduct their fraudulent activities without fear, hiding in plain sight, keeping their fraudulent practices secret. Ineffectual and incompetent government regulatory entities offered no meaningful assistance to timeshare fraud victims. Attorneys General largely ignored the criminal elements of the timeshare fraud (but note that the New York Attorney General has very recently taken some action and many are now being prosecuted and imprisoned for timeshare resale scams). Timeshare fraudsters had little to fear.

And then the internet gave everyone a voice. Timeshare fraud victims' complaints were not destined to be filed away by an impotent or corrupt bureaucrat or tallied in a back office of the Better Business Bureau. The Better Business Bureau now maintains records on timeshare companies online. Two of the three known timeshare developers on Hilton Head Island have "F" ratings with the Better Business Bureau and have 295 and 85 complaints, respectively, reported to the Better Business Bureau in the last three (3) years alone. Those numbers are staggering and appalling, but you cannot view the actual complaints or the substance of the complaints.

The Better Business Bureau is not a government agency. The Federal Trade Commission, however, is a government agency. Anyone can send a letter (also known as a Freedom of Information Act Request) to the Federal Trade Commission requesting complaints of timeshare fraud on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina, and anywhere else. In the case of Hilton Head Island, you will receive thousands of pages of complaints.

You can read one or you can read them all. But they are all similar or the same in substance. Should you have the heart to read too many of the complaints, themes will develop: the same lies are complained of; the same people and timeshare companies are complained of; the same fraudulent tactics are reported; the same senior citizens and the elderly are being targeted and having their bank accounts and retirement savings emptied.

The complaints from the Federal Trade Commission will be sent to you in nicely formatted form pages with typed information. Impersonal. Inhuman. But should you send a Freedom of Information Act Request to other government entities like the Town of Hilton Head Island, you should receive what I received: handwritten letters from the elderly pleading for help and detailing the outrageous timeshare fraud. They sadly note their late age, ashamed that they were taken by timeshare fraudsters, in despair that they are now without their retirement savings and living on fixed incomes. Instead of enjoying their hard earned golden years, they now have to work for their survival until they are room temperature.

Timeshare fraud is real. It is not a game where a timeshare company should be permitted to do whatever it takes to get the senior citizen to sign on the bottom line and hand over their credit card. Timeshare companies do not accidentally defraud people. There is no excuse for timeshare fraud, not even the tens of millions of dollars of income some timeshare companies make each and every year. Not the Mercedes and BMWs. Not the $5,000,000.00 homes. Not the freedom to live and do whatever one can imagine in a lifetime with seemingly limitless wealth.

The victims of timeshare fraud are more frequently taking their fight to the Courts, and they are quite frequently taking their complaints to the internet. Aside from making Freedom of Information Act requests to government entities, you can easily access seemingly endless complaints of timeshare fraud on the internet at www.ripoffreport.com, www.complaintsboard.com, www.redweek.com, www.pissedconsumer.com, www.tugbbs.com, and on and on and on. Most folks do not reasonably have enough time to read all of the complaints for Hilton Head Island alone, much less the entire State of South Carolina or the United States.

It is possible that all of the complaints of timeshare fraud are just a well coordinated conspiracy of senior citizens since the early 2000s to defame the timeshare industry. However, that possibility is just as likely as pigs flying and Hell freezing over. Yet, confronted with undeniable reports of timeshare fraud, the Federal, State, and Local government largely does absolutely nothing.
Why? That will be left to another blog post where I will review and analyze the motivations of individuals and entities, including timeshare sales people, the residents of communities where timeshares are located, Federal, State, and Local publicly elected officials, Federal, State, and Local entities and regulatory agencies, and the media.

Need Hilton Head attorneys? For more information, please visit our Hilton Head lawyers on the web at: www.LowcountryLegal.com

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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Unpaid Wages, Wage Claims, and Overtime in South Carolina

Employers usually pay their employees the wages owed to the employees for the hours worked. However, it is not entirely uncommon for employers to fail or refuse to properly pay their employees. Employees in South Carolina do have the right to be paid what they are owed and to be paid on time under various laws including the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act, Fair Labor Standards Act, and common law.

Sometimes employers do not properly pay their employees because they are simply bad actors. They know they owe their employees, they have the funds with which to pay, yet they refuse to pay. Sometimes the employer and employee agree that wages are owed, but the employer just refuses to pay, and the employee often quits. Other times the employer intentionally miscalculates and manipulates the employee's wage math and denies that any monies are owed.

It is much less common for employers not to pay their employees due to strict negligence, such as simply forgetting to run payroll or not transferring monies from one account to another to ensure available funds for direct deposit payments on pay day. Under those scenarios, it is unlikely that employees will seek legal recourse or legal advice and more likely that they would simply communicate with their employer to obtain payment.

Often employers do not pay their employees because they do not have the funds with which to pay their employees. Running a business is tough. An employer or owner could have personal financial difficulties and raid the business's operating bank account to pay for personal financial obligations. Many businesses do not have loans or lines of credit to operate their businesses in the case that there is a deficiency when it comes time to make payroll. If the business's customers or clients have not paid their bills, the employer may not be financially solvent to pay the employees.

Under any scenario, the employee has the right to be paid the amount owed and to be paid on time in South Carolina. Believe it or not: South Carolina has a law that protects employees. But what can employees do to protect themselves? After having consulted with countless individuals with wage claims in my mere five years as an attorney, I have found that there are some simple precautions that any employee can take to help their cause and assist in any future legal recourse.

1. Keep Track of Your Hours: Employees often put in their time and leave their documentation of their time worked and the dates on which they worked with the employer. They may fill out a timesheet, punch a clock, or sign into a computer to track their time. Under that scenario, if an employee alleges that their time has been altered or that they have not been paid in full, they have no documentation of their hours or dates worked, and they must rely solely upon the employer's records.

2. Document Communications: Do not simply have an offhand conversation with an employer or the employer's secretary regarding your wages. Send your employer an e-mail or a test message. Write your employer a letter and maybe even send it certified mail. Maybe record your conversation (but consult with a criminal attorney about the laws regarding recording conversations first, as every state has different laws and it can be a felony under certain scenarios). Otherwise, the employer may just deny your allegations.

3. Save a Copy: Keep a copy of any contract you may have with your employer. Few have contracts, but some do have simple written contracts. It is not uncommon that folks consult with me about monies owed to them for work completed believing that they were employees; however, they may be classified as independent contractors, and instead of a wage claim, they may have a breach of contract claim. However, they often work without any written instruction or details regarding the terms and conditions of the work or payment for the same.

4. Did I Mention to Make a Written Record?: Otherwise, it will be your word against your employer's word, potentially. Would your employer lie about you being an employee? Would your employer lie about the dates and hours you worked? About altering your timekeeping? Not the same employer that failed to get you medical attention when you were hurt on the job, fired you for getting hurt, and refused to pay you your last paycheck. Would your employer do that? Yes. These people do exist.

5. Use Common Sense: Why are you still working if your employer has not paid you for weeks or months? Has your employer been behind on paying you for weeks and months, making partial payments? Have you waited 6 months before consulting with an attorney? There are statutes of limitations on your wage claims, so you should immediately consult with an attorney or you may forever lose your rights.

I hope some of this information and my thoughts may be helpful. If you would like to discuss your wage claim, pay situation, or employment matter, please do not hesitate to contact us to arrange a free consultation. We are employment attorneys in Hilton Head SC and our employment lawyers Hilton Head also serve clients throughout the Lowcountry, including, Bluffton, Charleston and many other communities throughout the South Carolina Lowcountry.

www.LowcountryLegal.com
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Saturday, September 20, 2014

American Resort Development Association (timeshares): What is ARDA?

Timeshares are big business in South Carolina, as South Carolina has the most timeshares than any other state in the United States excepting Florida. An industry so large in South Carolina with billions of dollars at stake, lobbying by the American Resorts Development Association (ARDA) is also big business in South Carolina.

ARDA has played some role in attempts to pass various laws in South Carolina since at least 2009, according to ARDA's website. Below I have listed some information from the South Carolina State Ethics Commission relating to ARDA's lobbyists in South Carolina and contributions made by ARDA for certain candidates, offices, and dates thereof.

ARDA's South Carolina lobbyists include:

Fred Allen for American Resort Development Association; (803) 254-5626; Post Office Box 12070, Columbia, South Carolina 29211

Baylen T. Moore for American Resort Development Association; (803) 513-2619 7001 Saint Andrews Road 316, Columbia, South Carolina 29212

Whitney K. Williams of American Resort Development Association; (803) 254-5626; Post Office Box 12070, Columbia, South Carolina 29211

ARDA's (including ARDA PAC and ARDA ROC-PAC) South Carolina contributions for candidates, offices, and election dates therefor as reported by the South Carolina State Ethics Commission include:

1. Grand Strand Statewide PAC
2. Peter M. McCoy, Jr., for State House Representative on November 6, 2012
3. Senate Republican Caucus Committee
4. Senate Republican Caucus Committee
5. House Democratic Caucus Committee
6. Senate Republican Caucus Committee
7. Nikki G. Setzler for State Senate on November 4, 2008
8. Nikki G. Setzler for State Senate on November 8, 2016
9. Harry L. Ott for State House Representative 11/02/2010
10. Grady A. Brown, Sr., for State House Representative on June 9, 2010
11. William M. Hixon for State House Representative on June 8, 2010
12. William M. Hixon for State House Representative on June 1, 2012
13. Michael A. Pitts for State House Representative on June 12, 2012
14. Laurie S. Funderburk for State House Representative on November 6, 2012

ARDA is based Washington D.C. and represents timeshares, including owners' associations, property management companies, and others. ARDA monitors regulations of the timeshare industry and invests in lobbying efforts intending to obtain favorable laws and legislation for timeshare companies and others, presumably exclusively on behalf of its members.

It is sometimes difficult to discover who represents the people in the political process. One will often find that public officials elected for office perpetuate and support the positions and interests of their donors. It is no secret that money is a very large influence on the political process.

In my college education and pursuit of a Political Science Honors Degree from Winthrop University, I learned that one of the oldest tricks in the books is for individuals and entities to make donations to both side of the political spectrum and both of the most likely candidates to be elected into office. In this way, the interests of the individual or entity will be represented regardless as to how the election results. In the 2010 Hilton Head Mayoral Race, timeshare affiliates made contributions to both of the runoff candidates.

In the United States, we have a two party political system that most often guarantees that either a republican or democratic nominee will be elected into political office. For fans of The Wire, you will remember that an entire season focused on Tommy Carcetti's race against incumbent Mayor Royce to be the democratic party's nominee for Mayor of Baltimore. Carcetti won and the next thing you know he is Mayor. The Wire skipped the election entirely because Carcetti was essentially guaranteed to become Mayor with the broad support in Baltimore for the Democratic Party.

These are my musings for the day. I will let you consider how these matters affect South Carolina and the timeshare industry in South Carolina.

www.LowcountryLegal.com - We are lawyers in Hilton Head SC and Charleston, SC