Thursday, June 25, 2009

Oh NO! They DIDN'T!



They did, and it was awful. Just awful.

Two guys, Steve Lear and Scott Adams cooked up a company called A Plus American Vacations. They accepted lots of deposits and payments. You are correct if you are thinking "I bet they skipped".

It's heart-wrenching, too. Some of the stories are so sad, that one commentor is recommending the death penalty. (eek!)

You know how hard we all save to get out of the house and take that vacation, so you can imagine how it would feel to wake up one morning thinking everything is fine and so looking forward to your trip ~ and then you get a phone call, email, or a letter in your mailbox informing you that, uh, your reservation has been canceled and there is, gulp, no refund.

Here's my conjecture of how their operation worked:
  • They didn't have a brick and mortor store, nor a website.
  • They either really did have a unit(s) to rent, or they made up a unit(s) to rent.
  • They listed these units (real or phantom) on www.VacationRentals.com (and other websites belonging to HomeAway.com) as available for booking.
  • They only accepted checks as payment.
  • They left with the money, informing the ex-guests that they were in foreclosure, etc.
It was really very simple. It really was too easy. Steve and Scott told people they were a company. There are 15 people or more (who have come forward) out a couple of thousand apiece. Many more details will come to light, but the basic premise of what Steve and Scott were doing appears to be pure premeditated theft.

It's all over TripAdvisor and the news. I'm guessing this: (Click Here) was on the air on Thursday, June 25th, 2009.

There was one report that the Sevierville Police Department was telling folks "it could turn out to be a civil case". That's assumed to be policespeak for "you have to get your own lawyer". But: DANGIT. If lying and defrauding people isn't criminal, then something is very wrong and disturbed with the way my mind works.

If this turns out to be a well-planned scam, we can only pray that the POWERS THAT BE (that was screamed ~ but i'll whisper "Tennessee Real Estate Commission" and the "Attorney General's Office") will get off their well-fed asses and work to promote and pass laws that protect the public instead of allowing the Legislature to argue over a saggy pants ban.

(Isn't Scott Adams the Dilbert artist?)

UPDATE 11/29/2010:
They've been CAUGHT! Click HERE to read Jamie Satterfield's story in the Knoxville News Sentinel!

KnoxNews link:
http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2010/nov/28/fraud-schemer-strikes-plea-deal-provides-names/

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Welcome, Dear Tennessee Guest

Dear Tennessee Guest ~

Welcome to our beautiful state! I know, i know... it's hard to believe that God would put so much eye candy in one place. You will find that on the surface, it seems we knock ourselves out to make Tennessee a great way to enter and enjoy the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

We've gone to a great deal of time, money and trouble to offer you a plethora of other activities, in case you become bored with the grandeur of the scenery.

Since you probably want to stay safe and financially solvent during your time in Tennessee, there are a few things of which you should be aware:

1) It's so embarrassing that we now allow 'Guns in Bars'. It's supposed to be illegal for someone to consume alcohol if they're packin' a concealed weapon, but it's hard for a restaurant server to tell if they are - indeed - carrying a gun. We so apologize for the vocal 3% of Tennessee's population (the concealed weapon permit holders) who thought that tequila and guns could be safely mixed in public. The other 97% felt there was no way it would pass.

Ask a cocktail waitress how many marriage proposals she's received from tables of men just sittin' around shooting tequila. Do you get it, Dear Tennessee Guest? Shooting off guns or marriage proposals whilst shooting tequila?

Our Governor, Phil Bredesen, vetoed this idea when it came across his desk, but the aforementioned 3% seemingly (appearance is everything) donated enough money to their Representatives and Legislators to have the veto overturned. Following his beat-down, Governor Bredesen was quoted as saying
"I still think I'm right," he said. "I still think that guns in bars is a very bad idea. It's an invitation to a disaster."

Your best bet would be to either bring your own gun (in case a fight ensues at the local Applebee's), or stick to restaurants that don't have a saloon on the side.

2) Unfortunately, July is the time for sneaky sales tax increases to become effective. Some counties raised their bed tax, some raised their local option sales tax.

I know this makes you mad, Dear Guest, but think of the ignorant Tennessee kids who will never really see any benefit from these tax increases, even though the kids were used as props to strong-arm the citizens into approving the tax increases. One example is so blatant that it would be funny if it wasn't really a tragedy. School Superintendents around the country can take notes if they're interested in raising the values on their own personal properties while only raising a few eyebrows.

3) Dear Guest, you're probably renting a cabin or condo during your stay in Tennessee. You're probably doing this to save money because you can eat in every meal, and not have to worry about the 'guns in bars/restaurants' thingy. However, since 2003, your deposit money has been subject to being used for making luxury car payments. A tiny paragraph in your guest agreement makes all the difference.

True or not, it's bad that in June 2009, rumors circulated that, in Tennessee, American Patriot Getaways was filing bankruptcy and Timbertops could not pay their owners for May 2009. These are two large, huge, enormous rental companies and their good or bad business practices affect a lot of people... in a wide-spreading, tentacle sort of way. It could spell exponential train wreck-like carnage of a 25-unit company behaving badly. We can only hope that these rumblings really are just rumors.

The problem is they (the rental management companies) have the ability to put your money into their operating account ~ immediately upon your payment. If you cancel, or otherwise become eligible for a refund, your money is refunded from their operating account. That is, IF there is enough money in their operating accout to make your refund. This is not how it's supposed to be handled. And the property owners are taking a drubbing, too, because it's their rent money being spent out from under them. A dipping management company depends on current deposits to fund last month's owners' checks. Icky, eh?

If you ever come across a rental company that brags on the fact they hold your money in an escrow or 'trust' account until your departure, try every way in the world to stay with that company. You'll find there aren't very many of them in Tennessee. It could be said that there is not enough of a profit margin in the overnight rental business to drive a luxury car. You have to draw your own conclusions about them 'that do'.

4) One last tip: As you pass through Tennessee, do not look at any fly ash. It has a little-known effect of disabling your outrage hormones.

Be well, drive safely, and enjoy your stay, Dear Tennessee Guest.

Sincerely,
Ninety-seven percent of the population of the Great State of Tennessee