Updated March 12,2013
We are always looking for a more perfect fit with the way we like to travel. While on vacation we were approached at Wal-Mart in Cabo San Lucas to attend a presentation for Signature Residence Club. We were told it wasn’t a timeshare, but something better. Having attended numerous presentations in the past, and always being interested in new ways to vacation and save money doing so, we decided to attend. We were promised 2700 pesos for our time.
The location where we were taken was not at a resort, but right on the Marina adjacent to Mis Suenos restaurant (translation: my dreams) where we had our free breakfast.
After meeting Kevin Kurtz, our representative, we were told he had just recently joined the company as a rep and had just completed his training at Signature after retiring from 25 years of service with Air Canada as a pilot. This office had only been at the Marina for 10 days, he said. We were presented a time share-like program affiliated with Vallarta Gardens in Puerto Vallarta as the “home resort” where we could own a one bedroom week. But Kevin said the real attraction was Signature’s affiliation with GDS, Global Distribution Systems, and all their applicable discounts by skirting the middle men in the travel industry.
That is what Kevin spent most of his time telling us about. It was a jaw-droppingly good program: Substantial discounts off of flights, movies, Netflix, entertainment, restaurants and of course beautiful resorts and hotels all over the world. He showed us these discounts in “real time” on his laptop even asking us where we would like to go and showing us the respective rates. He even offered to book us a car rental for our stay in Cabo for two weeks for around $115 USD. The membership even included discounts on RV hook-ups through Good Sam, 1000 Trails and KOA. Since we own an RV we were very interested in that. We should have known that the domestic flight he showed us was not right as the air industry is regulated domestically as to pricing and not open to unpublished discounts.
Kevin showed us much of his polished presentation on the net – revealing his personal travel itinerary on his laptop showing his personal use of this service through Signature for the past months on almost a weekly basis while promising we could and would use it similarly. He claimed to be a member of Signature, not another club by another name, for 17 years. He had owned a timeshare like ours previously which he had then upgraded to this system. We were also told later that Signature Residence Clubhad been around under that name since 1980.
In addition to Kevin, we met his manager, Remy, a gentleman from Croatia who confirmed everything Kevin had told us.
For the privilege of owning a 1 bedroom week at Vallarta Gardens we would pay $23,950 which could be applied at any time over the next ten years to equity in real estate in any of the developments associated with Vallarta Gardens and their owner/builders. We were informed that there would never be any additional out-of-pocket payment ever again - no maintenance fees, no dues, etc. at Vallarta Gardens. The rest of the Signature program would also never require any additional fees, just the weekly or daily reduced rates along with all the other perks. Complete travel concierge service was also part of the package. During that initial presentation, Kevin dialed the number to show us that they always picked up within three rings.
This was interesting, enticing and most importantly a perfect fit for us. But, it’s not like we have almost $24,000 sitting in our bank account waiting for such an opportunity. The cherry on the cake, and ultimately what closed the deal for us was them offering us $33,500 for our 35,000 Worldmark by Wyndham points.
We have been offered money in exchange for our credits before. The most we have been offered is around $20K. Even that price was inflated much as one would experience when trading in a used car and buying a new one, for example. We have purchased after-market Worldmark points in the past through Redseason.com. The current retail price through Redseason, and what people pay for after-market Worldmark credits on the net, is less than half the $33.5K for a comparable package. Substantially less than that is being paid wholesale to owners like us who are selling their credits to Redseason. We were being offered close to a dollar a point from Signature while Redseason would have paid us around a quarter to a third of that amount. That is perhaps a better measure of what the credits are actually worth.
We were guaranteed no additional fees related to this transaction either. There was no termination date on the Signature product and our relatives would get their own membership cards with full access to the web site and full membership privileges. It seemed a screaming deal for us!! We mentioned numerous times to Kevin that it seemed too good to be true. Each time we were told that it was true, and that they would take something away from the program if we preferred. That was intended as a joke …
When we asked about why we were getting so much for our Worldmark points, we were told that Signature would use that payment to us for our timeshare as a write -off while essentially trading our points back to Wyndham and getting 40 weeks of use at Worldmark, Wyndham and RCI resorts in the Cabo area in exchange. Wyndham could then turn around and sell these old credits as new and get the going market value for them. Signature would then use those 40 weeks to lure potential clients to Cabo for less than $500, including airfare, stipulating that they must attend a similar presentation to the one we were experiencing. Kevin said that there was an ad in the Alaska Air magazine offering that, and we thought we had seen it on the trip to Cabo. (A later search online revealed no such ad that we could find.) They would use the weeks for marketing and stressed that they had a much higher closing rate when using this arrangement. It seemed like a win-win for everyone and a decent business model.
So when all was said and done, we would net more than $10,000 from the transaction involving Signature and the company purchasing the time share. We never met anyone from this company, Premier Property Management, although they did call us after we returned to the states. (Once it was determined that we no longer wished to purchase Signature, the buyer for our Worldmark points “changed their mind” about purchasing.) The whole transaction at point of sale was done through Signature. We agreed to waive our 2700 peso “gift” for attending the presentation in exchange for an additional $950 discount. It would be our points ($33.5K) less their membership cost ($23K) with the transaction all resolved in less than 180 days, which they said was the worst case scenario. We would immediately put the $23K on our credit card and the rest would be resolved later. Who wouldn’t take a deal like that?
If it were legitimate, that is …
We signed up, put the $23K on our credit card and floated back to our resort dreaming of awesome vacations at a fraction of what we’ve been paying since we bought our first timeshare in 1995, and for less than what we’d been paying in maintenance fees alone through Worldmark. Then we began exercising our due diligence during our 5 day Mexican buyer’s remorse period, and things got clearer and more interesting …
The first red flag, among many, was the brochure we received. One of the big selling points was that this was an American company based in New York City. The brochure was in both English and Spanish, but the English was full of typos typical of most Spanish to English translations in Mexico.
Curious, I went on Google to find out more about the actual location in NYC. All I could uncover was a mailroom at that address while several other small businesses were also associated with the same address. We were assured by numerous folks at Signature that there was an actual office in New York City at that address. A Mexican man named Jose Gomez who is their accountant, told us about visiting this office in NYC on numerous occasions, and that it was at that address on the third floor.
I contacted one neighboring business, a video store I saw on the Google street view and another one I found on the net at the same or similar address. After multiple email exchanges I discovered that 1710 1st Avenue was indeed a mail forwarding office offering a service called Opus Virtual Offices. For $99/month they would set up a company with call and mail forwarding, and an address in the US. This is by no means illegal, but how it was being used by Signature was completely misrepresenting who they are.
My contact at the video store next door confirmed without question that 1710 1st Avenue is ONLY the address for the mail company, not the rest of the building, which is a business hi-rise building, so there was no way that the Signature address could be anywhere but in the ground floor mail room location. I later confirmed this in a conversation I had with the owner of the mail facility.
A few days later after returning to the sales location with our growing list of questions and concerns, I had a phone conversation with “Heidi,” one of the Signature concierges who told me a bit about the facility where she said she worked in New York City. She told me that she worked with three other concierges at that office (there are also supposed to be others at a separate office in Mazatlan) on the ground floor of the building at 1710 in Suite B. Kevin later told me he had also visited the facility and that it was on the third floor. They had a difficult time keeping their story straight.
This was a huge red flag. If they were willing to lie to us about an office in the US repeatedly even after being questioned about our findings, what else were they misrepresenting?
One of the links on the net which came up for us when we Googled “Signature Residence Club reviews” was a scathing TripAdvisor.com review of a company called Grand Weeks. They had been accused of a serious scam affecting scores of people, and that was just the folks who had responded to the review. Apparently many who had traveled to Cabo and had purchased Grand Weeks’ service had experienced trouble getting all their money back from transactions similar to ours.
The similarities with Grand Weeks were eerie: a company associated with a restaurant in the Marina, offering to buy timeshare memberships for inflated dollars, a US location determined to be essentially a PO Box, etc. Then the reviews mentioned that after getting their money for their discounted travel service, the purchase of their timeshare was never completed nor was any access provided to the critical web site for all the travel access. When we looked at our Visa account online the payee in the pending sale was Grand Weeks. Upon looking closer at our charge receipt there was also the name Grand Weeks!
We also thought it odd that we could not actually use the web site during the mandatory five business days waiting period enforced as a buyer’s remorse period in Mexico and were concerned about that, too. We wanted to test drive our new purchase. At the presentation we were shown all sorts of info on the net, but were not allowed to really surf on our own. We did use Kevin’s laptop to move around on specific pages, one at a time, and given the illusion that we were using the site. They told us that people had gotten their user names and passwords and used the web site during the five day cancellation period, booked numerous vacations at the discounted rates and then gotten their money back. That was the reason they didn’t allow that practice any longer. It was a flimsy excuse at best. When I tried to get them to log onto my laptop at their site under their supervision, they quickly changed the subject.
During our interactions with Signature reps we sent several emails to them at their Signature based and also private Hotmail accounts. The company based accounts were returned undeliverable and the private emails not responded to. In retrospect, the stalling was intended to put us outside the five day waiting period. To their credit, we were told at almost every encounter that we could exercise our legal cancellation. It was smoothly incorporated to add credibility to their whole slick package.
We were also concerned that although the company claimed to have been doing business for 17 years there was virtually no information on the net about them, save for their company web pages. Such a thing would be unprecedented in our modern hi-tech world. A company in business that long should have a net presence beyond their own web site with reviews of all sorts. Kevin showed us that there were no negative reviews and explained that was because they always gave people their money back if they weren’t completely satisfied. But there were no positive reviews either. They showed us what amounted to their “presence”: A Yellow Pages listing, a listing through the Daily News and another at the NYC Chamber of Commerce. None had any reviews at all. A closer examination of the Chamber posting showed that it had most recently been updated 12/12/12, which was probably the time it was also initially created.
It was suggested by the Signature folks that we look to Dun and Bradstreet and the BBB for more information. Both had zero info on Signature even after emailing D&B multiple times with names, addresses and phone numbers. So we went back to the Marina and asked for something that would indicate the financial stability of the company. We were told that we could get that on the following Monday. When we came back on Monday we were told that in order to get that “confidential” information we would have to engage an attorney. More foot dragging …
Our request to speed up delivery of our username and password before we left Mexico was also denied. It was on some unalterable clock and no exceptions could be made, period. We made numerous requests regarding other items and were told that they’d check to see if our requests could be honored and told to get back to them later. Always upon checking back the answer was not what we were hoping for.
Upon further questioning the folks at Signature hemmed and hawed and then offered to extend our 5 day cancellation policy to five days after we got our user ID and password, not the standard five days after the sale and were given an addendum to our contract saying that. We felt much better after that, but continued to ask questions. It got us to leave for another day …
We contacted the folks at Vallarta Gardens in Puerto Vallarta and they never said anything to confirm any relationship with Signature, nor do they currently have any one-bedroom accommodations. They do plan on adding some in the future, but that is not what we were told during our interactions with Signature.
It was about this time where we began seeking advice from local timeshare salespeople who asked to remain anonymous. We discovered that the addendum we had all signed, being counter to Mexican law, would not be honored in a Mexican court, and that the five day waiting period was the extent of what was allowed. That was the final straw.
As we were now at the end of our patience with them and our five day waiting period we were told that we could buy the Signature/GDS portion of the package for $6000. This is again a similarity to what many of the complaints on Trip Advisor indicated the price was in the range of through Grand Weeks.
We went back to Signature on day five to cancel our contract. We filled out and signed all the paperwork along with their representative, Mr. Gomez. He asked us for all our paperwork which we denied him. We were also told that in Mexico they cannot issue a credit on our credit card on the spot and that we would have to wait 15 days for the credit. We called our credit card company immediately, explained the circumstances and filed a fraud complaint.
In short, there is no office in New York City and this company is almost assuredly the reincarnation of Grand Weeks. We also discovered that there was an interim incarnation of the company under the name Royalty Residence Club. We found an unflattering post on Facebook mentioning Remy. We also found F ratings on Grand Weeks at the Better Business Bureau.
About this time we began to share the information we were gathering about Signature at TripAdvisor.com. At one point we saw a lady carrying Signature brochures. We asked if she’d purchased and she said yes, she had. I started to tell her about what I’d found out. She began to defend her decision, but left committed to do more research on her own. She also showed us her receipt and what had read Grand Weeks on ours had been changed to Country Club on hers. They were adapting. We also were asked whether Country Club was associated when talking to our confidential sales rep friend. He seemed concerned about that connection at the time.
We also asked for our 2700 pesos we had given up during the transaction and were instead offered a certificate with a free week to any of their resorts. The name associated with the 1710 1st Avenue address at the bottom of the certificate? Not Signature Residence Club, but Royalty Residence Club …
It was only a few days later that we received a phone call at our resort asking us to come back in and sign some more papers. When asked what these papers were about, we were told it “would be in our interest” and that was all.
When we went in this final time, we were approached by Remy. He asked if we had been treated fairly and honestly. Wanting to avoid any conflict, we lied and said yes. We had been told by our inside sources in the industry to avoid any conflict at all costs as we could potentially be deported and denied admittance into Mexico for up to five years since they were technically doing business legally in Mexico. We were then shown postings on TripAdvisor.com relating to Grand Weeks and Signature and accused us of besmirching them. They flatly denied any connection to Grand Weeks offering another flimsy excuse as to why the name Grand Weeks was on our sales receipt. Although the post they showed us wasn’t ours, we denied having posted anything even though we had. They asked us repeatedly to remove any negative comments about them and at one point said something about a team of 300 lawyers they had. Intimidation tactics? You bet!
When something seems too good to be true, it almost always is – including Signature Residence Club. We made the mistake of getting swept away with our emotions. A decision like this should never be made based on emotions. Avoid Grand Weeks/Royalty Residence Club/Signature Residence Club and any company sounding at all like them like the plague. They are using feedback from every bad review to further hone their pitch and cover their tracks as evidenced by the name change on the receipt.
We are also going to lodge a complaint with Profeco, the Mexican consumer protection agency.
We got our money refunded by Visa and are in the clear about that.
Interestingly we got a phone call from Signature this morning asking us to please stop the negative postings on the internet about them, saying that it has affected their business. They were once again using intimidation tactics, suggesting that they would contest the refund. Sorry, Remy, Kevin, Jose and company. You get what you deserve.
In another interesting twist, someone responded to this original thread with a positive review. I believe the person was supposed to be from Arizona. Someone, it may have been the site moderator, responded telling the positive poster that without previous reviews from the poster (of which there were none) it would cast suspicion on the validity of the posting as the poster might be a “plant” … Now the thread has been removed in its entirety ... twice. Note that similar info exists on TA under Grand Weeks VIP and Grand Weeks/Royalty Residence Club/Signature Residence Club.
We also received our user name and password to Signature’s website. Please note: we have cancelled, we got all our money back and now this. It feels like bait and we won’t be biting.