What would you do for a free gift from a local Michigan campground? Attend a sales presentation? What if that presentation ended up costing you thousands of dollars? Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office has found that is what happened to several Michigan residents when Outdoor Adventures violated the Michigan Consumer Protection Act, luring consumers into deals they didn’t want for campsites they couldn’t use.
Attorney General Issues Cease and Desist Letter Against Campground
In the middle of a hot Michigan summer, while thousands of families were spending their vacations at the state’s public and private campgrounds, Attorney General Dana Nessel made a statement. On August 7, 2019, her office issued a cease and desist letter to campground management company Outdoor Adventures, saying the company had violated the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.
According to the letter, since 2016, the Attorney General’s office has received 28 consumer protection complaints against the company, including 10 this year alone. The Better Business Bureau can account for several more complaints. The claim: that a so-called free gift had turned into a multi-year contract for a campsite timeshare with a cost of several thousand dollars.
Consumers reported receiving phone calls or mailings inviting them to attend timeshare presentations by the company. The sales pitch told them they had won their choice of $20,000 or a new pick-up truck. All they had to do was sit through a sales presentation. But when they went, the sales team put on a long, high-pressure presentation that confused consumers and misrepresented the terms of the timeshare contract. Some consumers were signed up for credit cards without their knowledge. Others found themselves locked into multi-year contracts including monthly payments, interest, and annual membership fees.
When the consumers got the bill and sought to terminate their contracts, they found out the narrow 3-day window had passed and they could not receive any refund on the down payments they had already made, or get out of the remaining billing. When they refused to pay, Outdoor Adventures employed debt collections companies to go after the consumers and filed negative credit reports affecting their ability to get loans or other financing. In the letter, Assistant Attorney General Darrin Fowler says:
“The most troubling element of the materials we are seeing is the brazenly unconscionable approach Outdoor Adventures takes to cancellation attempts. . . . Although the Legislature clearly intended [the law allowing consumers to get a refund if a contract is cancelled within three days] to serve as a shield, Outdoor Adventures has warped it into a sword being wielded against consumers by making them believe that a failure to cancel within three days means no refunds are possible.”
Michigan Consumer Protection Act Defends Residents Against Deceptive Marketing
The entire scheme violates the Michigan Consumer Protection Act’s defense against deceptive marketing. The Attorney General’s office specifically identified violations of provisions against:
- Creating confusion or misrepresenting consumers’ legal rights and remedies
- Creating confusion or misrepresenting the conditions of credit used in a transaction
- Failing to refund deposits, down payments, or other payments when requested within a reasonable time
- Saying one thing in sales pitches and another in the written contract
- Creating a high-pressure coercive sales presentation
- Offering a prize conditioned on attending a sales presentation without the necessary notices
These provisions, and several others, are designed to protect Michigan consumers from falling prey to predatory sales techniques like the one used by Outdoor Adventures. When they are violated, the Attorney General, and private consumers, can use these protections to defend against collections cases and sue for damages caused by the deceptive marketing.
What Happens Next
The Attorney General’s cease and desist letter says the office will be performing a formal investigation into the company’s business practices. It also laid the groundwork for a future lawsuit against the campground management company for violating the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.
For consumers caught up in Outdoor Adventure’s deceptive marketing scheme, the letter also provides a warning. Now is the time to file your complaints against the company to protect your claim. You can also speak to a private consumer protection attorney to see if you qualify for a private lawsuit against the company for violations of the Michigan Consumer Protection Act.
Dani K. Liblang is a consumer protection attorney at The Liblang Law Firm, PC, in Birmingham, Michigan. If you are being harassed by debt collectors, contact The Liblang Law Firm today for a free consultation.