Beware of Buying insurance off Kijiji or Craigslist

In an earlier post I reported that an Air Force veteran was scammed when purchasing a motorhome off Craiglist.

fraudAviva Canada, one of the country’s leading providers of home, auto, recreational vehicle, group, and business insurance, is warning Canadians about the risks of insurance deals that seem too good to be true.

In cooperation with the Toronto Police Service, Aviva Canada released details of a recent insurance scam that has left individuals without auto insurance coverage and cost them hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of dollars, according to an Aviva Canada news release.

“With the anonymity and ease of classified websites, we have seen a sharp increase in the amount of fake motor vehicle liability insurance cards, also known as pink slips, being sold online,” said James Russell, Chief Underwriting Officer for Aviva Canada.

“Consumers need to be aware that some individuals have made a business out of defrauding others and use this type of scam as a regular source of income.”

Serafattin (George) Solak has been charged with:

  • One count of Fraud over $5,000
  • 13 counts of Fraud under $5,000
  • Eight counts of Uttering a Forged Document
  • Four counts of Misleading Receipts
  • Eight provincial charges of Sell, Give, Distribute Insurance Card

On September 10, 2013, Toronto Police Service officers arrested Solak outside of his Edmonton home.

The arrest was possible after Aviva Canada worked with the Toronto Police Service and the Ontario Crown Attorney’s office to uncover sufficient evidence for a Canada-wide warrant. fraudPrevention

He was returned to Toronto on September 11, 2013, and was taken directly to 31 Division. He is currently in custody awaiting a court appearance in a Toronto courtroom. During the arrest, police officers seized fraudulent Aviva Canada motor vehicle insurance liability cards.

“We want to emphasize that the charges against Mr. Solak are just one instance. Other would-be criminals are trying this over and over again,” continued Russell.

“What people are buying from these individuals is not insurance—it’s just a piece of paper that comes with a big risk. Any driver using a fake insurance slip instead of securing valid coverage could potentially be sued for millions of dollars.”

The charges were laid by Toronto Police Service after Aviva Canada provided evidence of fraudulent activity. It is alleged the Solak advertised insurance for sale on various online classified websites including Kijiji and Craigslist. It is also alleged that he met with a number of potential victims in person, accepted cash or checks and provided false motor vehicle liability insurance cards.

The Financial Services Commission of Ontario has also issued a public warning about Solak and his connection to a fake insurance scam.

What happens to those who are caught with false insurance? Having false insurance means a driver has no insurance at all, which is illegal. If it is discovered that a driver has a false insurance card, they could be charged with a criminal offense, possibly leading to first-time penalties of:

  • A minimum $5,000 fine, up to a maximum of $25,000
  • Vehicle seizure for up to three months, with the owner responsible for all storage costs
  • Driver’s license suspension for up to one year
  • For a second conviction the minimum fines double, and there is the possibility of being charged with a criminal offense.

What can consumers do to protect themselves?

rvBe mindful that if a deal seems too good to be true, it likely is.

Never purchase insurance with cash.

Call the company listed on the policy to ensure it is valid.

Never meet in a public place with someone that claims to be an insurance representative. Insurance brokers or insurers will have branded websites and/or an office; they will not likely ask to make a transaction in a public place.

Remember that even if the motor vehicle liability insurance card looks legitimate, it could still be a fake. Report it. If enough consumers alert authorities of this activity, fraudsters will be easier to capture and convict.

Call the Insurance Bureau of Canada’s TIPS line at 1-877-IBC-TIPS, the Financial Services Commission of Ontario’s Fraud Hotline at 1-855-5TIP-NOW, or Crime Stoppers (1-800-222-TIPS).

Worth Pondering…

Travel safely…and stay away from road-gaiters and orange barrels.

Read More

Membership Campground Contract Tough to Cancel

For nine years, Roseville, California retiree Basil Deem and his longtime companion lived full-time in their 37-foot motorhome while traveling the country.

Desert Shadows RV Resort in Casa Grande, Arizona is one of several membership campgrounds recently sold by Western Horizon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With a campground membership that gave them access to dozens of resorts around the country, they wintered in Florida and summered in the Northeast and Nevada, often paying as little as $5 a night for a camping site.

But when Deem became disabled and could no longer handle the RV lifestyle, he discovered he couldn’t cancel his $99-a-year membership, reports the Sacramento Bee.

Most everyone has heard of time-share troubles, where people can’t sell or get out of their annual—and often escalating—dues and fees at time shares in Hawaii, Cancún, or other resort areas.

Campground memberships are a lesser-known and less-frequent type of time-share complaint, according to the Bee.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) lumps RV-related complaints into several categories, including timeshare rentals and resales making it difficult to pin down exact numbers. But overall, timeshare sales and resales are ranked among the top 10 categories of consumer complaints nationwide, according to a survey by the Consumer Federation of America and North American Consumer Protection Investigators.

In Deem’s case, he didn’t realize his contract with Timber Lodge RV Resorts Inc.—an Apple Valley, Minnesota-based company—stipulated that the membership couldn’t be terminated until “the death of the fourth owner” or third transferee. Timber Lodge RV Resorts is located 5260 Highway 150 West, New Waverly, Texas.

Verde Valley Preserve is a popular Thousand Trails membership campground near Red Rock Country and Sedona, Arizona. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In other words, he could sell or let his heirs inherit his membership. But even then there would need to be two more changes of ownership before the contract could be terminated. The company refers to it as a “charter lifetime” contract.

Some campground membership contracts are for a limited amount of time, such as 1 year, 5 years, or 10 years, while some are for life, and in some instances, transferable, so they can be sold or willed, much like any other investment.

If your membership contract is for a specified number of years, you may not be able to terminate it until you have paid the full amount owed for the contract and the dues owed for the specified number of years.

Many campground membership contracts do not state for how long you must continue to keep the contract in effect by paying annual dues. If your contract does not state how many years it lasts, and if you have already paid the full price of the membership, you may be able to terminate the contract by giving the business notice that you no longer wish to keep the contract in effect.

You may still have to pay any amounts you owe for past due annual fees or dues you owed before you notified the business that you do not wish to keep the membership contract in effect. It is best to give written notice, sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, to show the date you sent the notice and that the business received it.

Remember, whether or not you can cancel or terminate your contract will depend on what your contract with the campground membership company states.

Reading the contract before signing is the key. No matter how simple the purchase appears to be reading the entire agreement is essential.

After conducting a search on Rip Off Report I located 19 separate complaints submitted against Timber Lodge between November 2009 and August 2012.

The following consumer complaint is fairly typical:

Timber Lodge RV Resort offered us $99.00 yearly fees for use of their park as only a home park for our Coast to Coast membership. And they are saying we are not allowed to drop out without paying early termination plus late fees and reinstatement charges.

But we don’t want to be reinstated as we are no longer traveling. We assumed that anytime we wanted to drop out we didn’t pay the yearly fees and would be canceled and removed from their resort. And now find they have turned this over to a collection agency.

Another consumer responded as follows:

I’ve been there and done that. I went through the Minneapolis BBB and filed a complaint against Timber Lodge RV Resort. I finally agreed to pay $200 to get release from their company and have been in contact with over 10 people who are banding together to take action as a group instead of an individual who want out of that ridiculous contract.

The Thousand Trails Orlando Preserve is a popular membership campground in Central Florida. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Have you ever heard of a contract that makes your children pay when you pass away? They took advantage of me, a senior citizen, making promises over the phone (“You can sell your membership anytime with my help and there would not be a problem). We were victims of misrepresentation, nondisclosure, and contradiction in statements upon which we relied.

The bottom line: Read the contract—every single word—before signing on the dotted line!

Disclaimer: I am a member of Thousand Trails, Western Horizon Resorts, and Passport America camping club but do not represent them or sell memberships.

Related Stories

Please Note: This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on Membership Campgrounds

Part 2: Is Membership Camping For You?

Part 3: Is Membership Camping Cost Effective?

Worth Pondering…

Of all the things I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.

—Mark Twain

Read More