|By Sara K. Clarke, The Orlando Sentinel,
Fla.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
January 28, 2009 --Westgate Resorts has agreed to pay $900,000 to settle a Federal Trade Commission investigation into its marketing practices.
The agency accused the Orlando-based time-share company and two other companies of placing thousands of telemarketing calls to people on the national "do not call" list. Westgate said Tuesday the case dealt with what it described as an "unsettled, gray area" of the law, and said it was reaching out to people who had provided their contact information through online channels.
"Why would the people provide pertinent and private information, including their phone number, if they didn't expect to be contacted?" asked Michael Marder, a lawyer for Westgate. The time-share company didn't admit any wrongdoing but settled the complaint to avoid the cost of further litigation, he said.
Westgate said the marketing program in question involved a third-party lead provider with whom it no longer does business.
The FTC's announcement on Tuesday also included a $275,000 settlement with an Ormond Beach travel company, Accumen Management Services Inc., and its Ormond Beach subsidiary All in One Vacation Club LLC. No one at those companies could be reached for comment.
The agency said the three companies had made telemarketing calls to consumers who had filled out entry forms for a sweepstakes offering vacation packages as prizes. Many of those who were called, the FTC said, were on the National Do Not Call Registry and did not wish to receive pitches from telemarketers. The combined $1.17 million in settlement money will go into the U.S. Treasury.
Westgate asked the federal government for financial leniency in light of the nationwide recession and credit crisis but received a "disappointing response," Marder said. Along with many other time-share companies, Westgate has cut costs and laid off staff recently in a struggle to continuing operating since the global credit markets seized up last fall.
Still, Marder said, the company had made plans for the expense and has already paid the settlement.
"It's a cost of doing business in today's environment," he said.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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