Iowa’s consumer-protection office is celebrating a victory this week in a long-running case against operators of a big campground. Attorney General’s spokesman Bob Brammer says in 2002 the consumer branch began looking at complaints from people who’d bought a share in a recreational venture. He says people many years ago signed up to buy shares in a “membership campground.” Many had forgotten all about it till 2 or 3 years ago when they began calling the Consumer Protection Office to say they were being commanded to pay membership dues totaling in the thousands of dollars, even though they hadn’t used the campground for years, hadn’t heard from the operators in years, and had been unable to sell their shares. The Attorney General’s office agreed, and decided the owners of the campground northwest of Des Moines had used unfair practices, something against Iowa law. Consumers were being treated unfairly by “very harsh collection practices,” when he says they had no chance to get out of their ownership — due, in part, to things that club had done. It’s an unclear term, and lower courts ruled against the state in the case over a period of more than two years. Today (Friday) the Iowa Supreme Court upheld the consumer lawsuit, a win for the prosecutors. Brammer says the state did not allege that people were duped when they “bought in” to the campground program. People bought shares in the campground, and beginning in the 1980s the company had around 3-thousand shares in the camping club to sell. Not only did a share cost three, four, or 5-thousand dollars, but there were membership dues, which were only 96-dollars at first but then rose to 400-dollars or more. People stopped using the campground over the years, but they found they couldn’t sell their shares. There was no market, in part because the operators apparently keep a lot of unsold shares themselves. So people were stuck with it, and over ten or fifteen years they forgot about it — till Cutty’s began trying to collect membership fees that rose from less than 100-dollars a year to more than 400, becoming threatening and forceful about demanding thousands of dollars from the owners of shares. The ruling may not mean any refunds but is expected to halt the collection efforts. Share owners who want to learn more about out the case can contact the Attorney General’s office at (515) 281-5926 or (888) 777-4590.
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