The call to Nancy's Madison-area home came from a woman in Florida. It promised an "exit strategy" to the timeshare she's owned in Orlando, Fla., since the early 1990s.
"I represent a company called Freedom Choice Solutions," she said. "We're going to have a representative in your area who can meet with you and help you get rid of your timeshare."
Nancy's first call afterwards was to News 3. She volunteers with our Call For Action team, helping consumers solve problems with businesses and governmental entities.
"We set it up that we were going to have cameras and a microphone there and he would go through his sales pitch and we'd find out exactly what he was trying to do," Nancy said. "The pitch now is, it's impossible to sell a timeshare, but we can do it for you for a fairly sizable fee."
The goal of the ensuing hidden-camera investigation, featured in a News 3 Investigates Special, "Inside the Pitch," was to help consumers know the questions to ask and how to spot potential red flags. We are not giving Nancy's last name to prevent her from receiving even more solicitations. All along, the salesperson believed I was Nancy's son even though I never said that.
The man who arrived at Nancy's home in September was Michael Lacore. He told us Nancy's timeshare held no value and the maintenance fees she would accumulate each year in perpetuity made it obvious what she should do.
"The warnings are out there," he said. "The warnings are from the attorney general, from every great media source out there: Suze Orman, Dave Ramsey, Clark Howard, you name it, they'll all tell you that they're worthless investments.
"Human nature always wants to put something like this off and you can, but it's not going to be the right decision to keep it. I know that. Getting rid of this will save you a bunch of money. It'll save you a bunch of headaches."
He said for a one-time fee of $4,995, she could transfer her timeshare deed to his company. Freedom Choice Solutions would then transfer it to a "travel company or a corporation," he said because "we don't want it either."
After the hour-long presentation, Nancy walked away from the table, the five-page contract she would have had to sign and did not write a check.
Since then, News 3 invited representatives from the Southwest Wisconsin chapter of the Better Business Bureau to watch the recorded conversation as well as doing our own research into Mike Lacore and Freedom Choice Solutions.
Here are some of the questions that arose the night of the conversation and the responses from the company since its recording.
--Lacore arrived at the meeting with no business cards or credentials from his company. He allowed us to take a photo of his Texas driver's license and U.S. passport card, but they had different birth dates on them. He later told us by email that the "DMV office in Irving, Texas screwed up!"
--Freedom Choice Solutions is registered in Nevada with a call center in Florida and the company offices represented as "Seguros Management Ltd." in the Bahamas. That Bahamas company's website is now defunct. We asked about who owned the company. A company spokesperson, Josh Schmidt, wrote in an email to News 3, "All legally required disclosures are a matter of public record and we comply with all laws." Lacore told us the night of the presentation, "The headquarters is really me and you sitting down and doing this."
--Lacore told us during the presentation that earlier this year, he worked for another "timeshare relief" company called Vale Professionals. Its website and Freedom Choice Solutions' website contain the exact same wording, including on the testimonials page where the quotes are the same from customers but with different names displayed. When asked about this, Schmidt told News 3 in a phone call, "That's a good question. I don't do the IT stuff."
After watching the video, the representatives from the BBB said the lessons consumers can learn from this is to ask lots of questions and to ask for time.
"With anything, you want to think about it, take your time, do some research," said Lisa Schiller, an investigator with the BBB. "No matter what decision you're making, take your time. The offer will always be there if it's a legitimate offer."
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