Retired Christian missionaries Frank and Betty Lusk had no intention of buying another timeshare while on a Caribbean cruise last year.
But by the time the trip was over, a charming Diamond Resorts salesman had convinced them to buy a $150,000 timeshare with $19,000 in annual fees. They borrowed against their West Valley retirement home to pay for it, the Lusks said.
"They called it a dream holiday. Actually, it was a nightmare," said Frank, 89, who was a music professor. "It was the dumbest thing we ever did."
Desperate for a way out, they agreed to an exit company's hefty fees to try to negotiate an end to the contract.
Betty, an 88-year-old former librarian, has had insomnia and fainting spells from the stress. She's gone to the hospital several times, she said.
The Lusks have used timeshares for years to visit Scotland, Florida, Alaska, Hawaii and the Caribbean and have given trips to their children. Many of the contracts were affordable and straightforward, they said.
By last year, all were paid off except one with Diamond Resorts worth more than $50,000, they said.
"We've enjoyed the timeshares," Betty said.
But the Lusks said Diamond Resorts lied to them in a September 2018 sales presentation and used hardball tactics that echo prior complaints from consumers,such as not adequately explaining all the costs of the timeshare and failing to honor their request to cancel the agreement within the legal time frame.
In 2017, Diamond Resorts agreed to reform sales practices, pay a large fine and cancel dozens of contracts in a deceptive-practices case with the Arizona Attorney General's Office.
Diamond Resorts believes in "transparency and accountability," spokesman Bruce Miller said in a written statement, while declining to comment on the Lusks' case. "We strive to provide excellent customer service and a transparent sales process at all times."
When the Lusks took the most recent cruise in September, Diamond Resorts promised a special reception on a private island, they said.
Instead of a relaxing dinner, they were ushered into a meeting with a salesman.
He told the Lusks buying another $150,000 timeshare with 10 percent down was "life insurance" that would resolve any debts they had with the resort when they died, a promise they repeatedly questioned, Betty said. The timeshare contract they received is not life insurance and does not pay off debts upon death.
The salesman showed them documents he wouldn't let them keep and didn't mention the high maintenance fees that appeared in the final contract, she said.
"He really talked us hard into getting this," Betty said.
When the cruise landed on their 68th wedding anniversary, Betty and Frank were wracked with regret.
They sent a certified letter to Diamond Resorts, within the legal window to cancel the contract, the Lusks said.
"We do not want to encumber ourselves with further debt at our ages," they wrote.
The salesman called.
"If you can believe it, he talked us into it again," Frank said. "We're too trusting."
"We're Christian people," Betty said. "I guess we’re not as worldly wise."
Shortly after, the couple wrote a second letter demanding cancellation. They accused the company of elder abuse.
"Keeping this contract would lead to our bankruptcy," the Lusks wrote.
In December, Diamond Resorts confirmed the timeshare had been rescinded.
"This letter is to confirm the cancellation of your vacation ownership interest with Diamond Resorts," the company said. "We sincerely hope you will choose Diamond Resorts in the future to provide you with priceless memories."
But the bills kept coming. On the phone, company representatives told the Lusks the contract was still in place, the couple said.