Undiscovered Theft of $872K Led Hotel Owner to Sell Due to Struggling Financial Performance

GRAND RAPIDS — An Ottawa County woman pled guilty Thursday in a federal courtroom in Grand Rapids to a charge of wire fraud over several years, which resulted in stealing nearly $900,000 from an Allendale hotel where she worked.

While making the plea, 39-year-old Renata Nicole Annese agreed to pay restitution of approximately $872,000. She will also forfeit her equity interest in her personal residence in Jenison because she used the fraud to make her mortgage payments.

From October 2006 to April 2013, Annese used interstate wires to defraud the former owner of the Sleep Inn hotel in Allendale of nearly $1 million, said U.S. Attorney Patrick Miles. Annese used the Internet so that she could edit data related to the hotel’s credit card sales. She then inserted her own personal credit card and bank debit card numbers on the payment side of many of those transactions, causing the hotel customers’ cards to be charged, but directed the customers’ banks to send the payments to Annese’s credit and debit cards instead of to the hotel’s bank account.

Miles said the hotel’s lost revenue led to the owner to sell the hotel in 2013 because of its struggling financial performance. The now-former owner did not learn of Annese’s fraud until shortly after the sale, Miles said.

A federal indictment for Annese was made in November 2014. The FBI conducted the investigation.

Annese will be sentenced May 18, at which time she will face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Posted in 2015 Enews - 02/15, Around the World | Leave a comment

The More the Merrier for a Valentine’s Day Vacation, According to RCI

rci-logoSearch data from global vacation exchange brand shows that travelers are looking to get away in groups and bring pets for Valentine’s Day trips

Parsippany, N.J. – With Valentine’s Day approaching, a romantic getaway is on many travelers’ minds. But they are not searching for the typical trip for two.

RCI, took a look at data from RCI® subscribing members searching for a vacation over the week of Valentine’s Day. The more than 750,000 searches conducted for that week yielded some interesting results.

Despite the romantic nature of the holiday, travelers were not looking to escape alone. Instead, they were searching for group travel in units with multiple bedrooms. In fact, only 4.6 percent searched for a unit for just two people. Unsurprisingly then, nearly 75 percent searched for a unit with two or more bedrooms. More space, bedrooms, and privacy are some of the many benefits of vacation ownership units.

Traveling companions no longer just include family and friends, as shown by the number of travelers looking to take their pet on vacation. The amount of members who searched for pet-friendly accommodations nearly tripled since the previous year, with more than eight percent wanting to take their furry friend on their Valentine’s Day getaway.

Some travelers searched specifically for an activity-based trip over Valentine’s Day week. Downhill skiing was the most popular search, with more than 67 percent looking for this type of trip. On the other end of the spectrum, a beach vacation came in second with nearly 1 in 5 looking for a beach trip.

For those travelers looking to book a specific destination, Playa del Carmen and the Riviera Maya areas of Mexico took the most popular spot (13.4 percent). It was followed closely by Orlando, Florida (11.6 percent); Tenerife, Spain (7.3 percent); Cancun, Mexico (5.9 percent); and Hilton Head, South Carolina (5.8 percent).

For more information, visit

Posted in 2015 Enews - 02/15, Australian Timeshare Industry, RCI News | Leave a comment

Employees misusing Social Media

1114-4Business owners beware! Even if you or your businesses are not active in the social media space, your employees’ online actions can have a lasting real life impact.

In a well-known case from 2011, an employee of Linfox Australia Pty Ltd was dismissed for posting offensive and discriminatory comments about two of his managers on his Facebook profile page.

The Fair Work Commissioner recognised that the posted comments were ‘outrageous and distasteful’, but found that Linfox did not have grounds to dismiss the employee. At the time of the dismissal and the hearing, Linfox did not have a social media policy.

In the recent case of Malcolm Pearson v Linfox Australia Pty Ltd [2014], the Fair Work Commission held that it is not “harsh, unjust, or unreasonable” to expect an employee to comply with a social media policy that operates outside, as well as inside, the workplace. In this case, Linfox (presumably having learned from its previous experience) had implemented

a social media policy and Mr Pearson’s refusal to sign this policy, amongst other shortcomings, constituted a valid reason for dismissal. The Commission dismissed the unfair dismissal case on the basis that the social media policy was a legitimate exercise by Linfox in protecting its reputation and security. The Commission recognised that the natural overlap between public and private life makes such an “invasive” policy necessary.

“It is difficult to see how a social media policy designed to protect an employer’s reputation and the security of the business could operate in an ‘at work’ context only…Gone is the time where an employee might claim posts on social media are intended to be for private consumption only.”

These decisions form part of an evolving body of case law that reflects the increasing prevalence of social media and a more sophisticated understanding of its implications in the workplace.

So what should employers do to protect their interests? Most experts agree that employers should:

  • Implement a comprehensive social media policy
  • Adequately train their employees in the policy and ensure they are aware of the employer’s expectations around social media in and out of the workplace, and
  • Regularly review the policy to maintain currency.

Employers should be mindful that courts and tribunals are increasingly willing to hold employees accountable for social media misuse. Hence, employers should not shy away from robust disciplinary actions when the circumstances are appropriate.

Posted in 2015 Enews - 02/15, Business, Consumer Tips & Advice | Leave a comment

35,000 new SMSFs this financial year… Will you be one of them?

0914-11Did you know there are 539,375 Self Managed Superannuation Funds (SMSFs) currently in existence?*

33,340 new SMSFs were established last financial year, forecasted to grow by another 35,000 this financial year. If you too are looking to create your own Self Made Secure FutureTM through an SMSF, here are some practical tips you should consider.

  1. What’s in a name?

When naming an SMSF, there are basically no restrictions on what name you can choose. As a guiding rule though, the shorter the name, the better.

For example, it is perfectly allowable for an SMSF to be called ‘The John Smith Family Executive Superannuation Fund’.

However, that name will need to fit on bank statements in respect of bank accounts that could have significant dollars in them! With many bank computer systems not allowing such a long name, they will truncate the name instead. Accordingly, that can create uncertainty as to the true name of the SMSF, or even create uncertainty as to whether there are multiple SMSFs!

  1. Avoid Numbers

One of the most elite units in the US armed forces was originally called ‘SEAL Team Six’. Although there were only two SEAL units at the time, the name was chosen to confuse the Soviets. This naming strategy might have been a good idea during the cold war, but may not be true when naming SMSFs.

For the purpose of asset protection and other reasons, it can make sense to have multiple SMSFs. There is a temptation to put numbers in names, such as calling the second SMSF ‘Smith Super Fund No 2’, the third SMSF ‘Smith Super Fund No 3’, and so on.

However, imagine if a tenant of the Smith’s commercial property in the second or third super fund sues the landlord (ie, the SMSF trustee). If the name of the SMSF is ever disclosed to the tenant, it starts to suggest that there are other SMSFs with other assets (ie, that the plaintiff might have found a wealthy defendant).

  1. Sole purpose corporate trustees right from the start

Some people adopt the view that it’s too expensive to use a corporate trustee at the start when the SMSF might not be comparatively large yet.

However, there is a certain advantage in having a corporate trustee right from day one; you don’t have to make any changes later to the trustee structure. While obvious, the benefit is larger than many realise. The documentation necessary to change a trustee is legal documentation and a lot of people incorrectly prepare it. Even lawyers might incorrectly prepare it.

Consider the case of Moss Super Pty Ltd v Hayne [2008] VSC 158. This case involved an SMSF that had had a change of trustee. The validity of the appointment of a new trustee was challenged on the basis that the existing deed required that a certain person sign the appointment documentation in one capacity and not in the capacity that that person actually did sign.

Byrne J held that the challenge identified a legitimate flaw in the purported change of trustee and accordingly the entity that thought it was the new trustee was not.
If, however, a company that was registered for the sole purpose of being a trustee is used right from the SMSF’s commencement, odds are no change of trustee will ever be needed, and thus there is no opportunity to make any mistakes.

  1. Naming corporate trustees

Again, shorter is better and avoid numbers. Unlike SMSFs, each company must have a unique name and certain words are effectively banned from company names. The two most common banned words from company names that people want to use are ‘Trust’ and ‘Trustee’.

However, the word ‘Super’ is allowable. Accordingly, we recommend a name like ‘Smith Super Pty Ltd. That being said, because company names must be unique, that exact name typically will not be available and something like ‘J&MS Pty Ltd’ could be used instead.

If you are ready to take control of your super through an SMSF, contact your local Crowe Horwath advisor. These tips were provided by Crowe Horwath’s SMSF trust deed provider, DBA Lawyers.

*Figures as at Sept 2014 – ATO Quarterly Report. Find out more by clicking here.

This is for general information only. Any advice in this article has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. You should therefore not act on it without first taking those things into account and seeking professional advice. Crowe Horwath Financial Advice Pty Ltd ABN 51 060 092 631 | AFSL 238244.

Posted in 2015 Enews - 02/15, Business | Leave a comment

Airbnb catching chains in bookings

airbnbAirbnb has already overtaken major hotel companies in terms of its valuation by investors, but its growth could have it outpacing them in more concrete terms – actual guest bookings – in a few years, according to a Barclays research report.

During the past year, the number of rooms available through Airbnb has grown from about 300,000 to about 1 million, according to Barclays European leisure analyst Vicki Stern. By comparison, as of the 2014 BTN Business Travel Survey, the largest hotel company measured by rooms, InterContinental Hotels Group, had a portfolio of about 687,000 rooms. Airbnb offers more rooms than many of the largest hotel groups in the world –  Hilton, InterContinental and Marriott –  which each maintain just under 700,000 rooms. (Marriott said today at the World Economic Forum that it expects its portfolio of hotels to surpass 1 million rooms by the end of 2015.)

Even so, it will remain mostly a leisure player during that time, with only about 10 per cent of Airbnb bookings currently used for business travel, she added.

“There is currently no regulation applied to Airbnb hosts regarding fire safety, food hygiene and insurance,” Stern wrote. “This is a key difference to hotels, which are required to adopt strict health and safety regulations, and this is one key reason why we believe the majority of business[es] would be reluctant to send employees to Airbnb accommodation instead of a hotel.”

The size comparison isn’t a direct one, since Airbnb doesn’t own the rooms booked on its site, and many listings aren’t available year-round. And when it comes to guest bookings, Airbnb still has a long way to go: Barclay’s report estimates that Airbnb’s current bookings are about 37 million room-nights per year, which is only around 20 per cent of IHG’s 177 million last year.

Still, the Barclay’s report, titled Hotels: Is Airbnb a game-changer?, predicts that Airbnb’s growth in bookings could treble in size in the next year, putting the company on track to outpace the largest hotel companies within a few years. It projects that by the end of 2016, the room-sharing platform could boast 129 million room-nights per year. Airbnb currently represents as much as 17.2 per cent of hotel room supply in New York, 11.9 per cent in Paris, and 10.4 per cent in London, according to Barclays’ estimates, and those percentages are projected to increase.

Amid its optimism about Airbnb, the report also noted that increasing regulatory pressures around the legality of Airbnb’s listings could slow this growth. Airbnb also poses a greater threat to the midscale segment of the hotel industry than to luxury categories, and hotels have a leg up with it comes to business travel, the report said.

Despite the Airbnb’s efforts to target more business travellers, the report says that just 10 per cent of Airbnb bookings are currently used for business travel.

Posted in 2015 Enews - 02/15, Around the World | Leave a comment

Our Vacation Centre

ovcWe are pleased to announce Cruise Megastore (OVC) took out the title for National Winner for a ‘Single Location’ on Saturday at Scenic Tours “Night of the Stars” gala event held in Sydney’s Ivy Ballroom.

Scenic Tours has released its 2016 pre-release Europe river cruising program, offering early bookers the chance to lock in cruise dates for next year at 2015 prices.

“Pre-release offers are the “very best deals” that will be offered,” Scenic Tours General Manager of Product, Aleisha Fittler said, “Deals include FREE Return Flights to Europe (inclusive of taxes), Business class fares to Europe for $2,995 and no single supplement for solo travellers.” (source Travel Daily)

Well done to the Travel Megastore / Cruise Megastore team.

PictureD: S Fisher from Cruise Megastore receiving the award.

Posted in 2015 Enews - 02/15, Australian Timeshare Industry | Leave a comment

Leading Difference – Catherine Palin-Brinkworth

Difference – or diversity – is an essential component of any healthy team, organisation and community. Managing it well, and leading a diverse team to high achievement, needs a high level of awareness and communication mastery. We now need the leadership skills to integrate the diversity of ethnicity, age, gender and neuro-science.

The challenge for all of us as human beings is that we often think that the way we are, is the right way to be. That’s natural! But it does cause difficulties when we see others as wrong, rather than simply different. And no matter how aware, conscious or committed we are, we all carry inherent or subconscious bias, that stimulates denial, defence or even aggression.

This program’s purpose is to elevate understanding, to explore issues of difference, cultural expectations, and to actually provide the experience of being different in order to develop greater empathy. We focus on the discovery of common ground, to reach a higher-level focus of purpose, intent, and outcomes.

Program contents include:

  • The four levels of awareness we need to work effectively together
  • Understanding culture and its implications
  • Exploring different cultural values – our own and other’
  • Introducing neuro-diversity through Behavioural Styles
  • An introduction to Multiple Intelligence Factors
  • Understanding ‘face’ (Saving, Giving and Losing)
  • Exploring ‘BrainSex’ with continual real-life research
  • The Generational Divides and Bridges
  • Key Success Areas for Leading Difference

Although intensive and hard-working, the entire program is lively. Interactive and enjoyable, providing valuable discovery-learning processes in a friendly environment. The timing structure and duration of the program can always be varied according to client needs and organisational structure.

leadingCatherine Palin-Brinkworth is a behavioural scientist (M.AppSci Socail Ecology) with a successful background in corporate sales and marketing. For the last 25 years Catherine has delivered her value as a business growth strategist, consultant and adviser and now as leadership coach and mentor. She has chaired several organisations nationally and internationally, and is in demand world-wide as a speaker and facilitator of leadership development and change programs. Catherine is also a Group Chair for the world-wide CEO Mastermind Group, The Executive Connection (TEC).

Click here to register

Posted in 2015 Enews - 02/15, Business | Leave a comment

An Inside Job

When people have access to other people’s money there is an inherent fraud risk and sooner or later, history says that someone will take advantage of an opportunity. There has been a fundamental shift in recent times; where previously fraud was generally committed by an individual and often for small amounts, dishonest employees are increasingly colluding with external accomplices to defraud their employers.

The schemes these fraudsters concoct are becoming more sophisticated and difficult to identify. Research shows that it’s taking more than two years to identify many instances of criminal activity. There has also been an 82% increase in fraud events that have netted criminals in excess of $1M.

Not even large insurance underwriters, with all of their formal compliance programs, are immune. A case in recent headlines told of a senior claims officer who set up a law firm as a front and through it invoiced her employer company for $17M of bogus legal work.

It was reported that “discrepancies” had been identified when the person was on leave. A devastated company spokesperson said, “This person worked for us for several years…she was a trusted employee…I could not believe the betrayal by a loyal employee”. Luckily, the employer firm had insurance protection and the money was recovered.

A recent survey identified that less than 5% of businesses have insurance against criminal activity. However, the reality is that very few businesses can confidently say they are immune to internal fraud.

Smaller businesses are considered more vulnerable, mainly due to the lack of resources to adequately and regularly check all operations and the common practice of using one or two people to be responsible for all accounting issues.

Often, when a minor fraud or theft goes unnoticed, the perpetrator feels more confident and the incidents and amounts involved start to escalate.

Business operators can take steps to minimise the chance of these incidents:

  • Ensure there is definite segregation of duties so that no one employee handles all points of a transaction.
  • Ensure that staff use leave entitlements. Criminal activities are often first discovered when the perpetrator is on leave.
  • Investigate anything and everything that appears unusual or suspicious.
    Screen all new employees for prior history before hiring them.

Estimates suggest that fraud accounts for 40% of all identified crime…or to put it in real terms, $8.5bn per annum.

How much of your money is in that pot?

Insurance against crime. Yes, there’s a policy for that. Contact your insurance broker account manager for information.

Posted in 2015 Enews - 02/15, Business | Leave a comment

Surfers Paradise on Queensland’s Gold Coast has been announced as the Destination for the 2015 – ATHOC Annual Conference


Monday 7, Tuesday 8 & Wednesday 9 September 2015 in the Q1 building in the centre of Surfers Paradise.

This property is known worldwide as the highest building in Australia and the Southern Hemisphere when measured to the top of its spire

Get together with Colleagues from around the world and discuss the good, the bad and the ugly, but walk away with a clear insight on how to move your business forward.

The two day/3 night event will involve numerous speakers from both within and external to the industry. Use this as an opportunity to broaden your mind.

Mark the dates in your diary. If you have any speaker, topic or conference suggestions, please send them through.

Posted in 2015 Enews - 02/15, ATHOC Annual Conference, Australian Timeshare Industry, Events, Upcoming Events | Leave a comment

ATHOC Foundation Annual Charity Golf Day –- Tuesday 10 March 2015

0714-6This year’s Industry Foundation Golf Day will be held at the Arundel Golf Club on the Gold Coast.

This is your chance to be a part of an incredible fund raising and networking event. For more information and an opportunity to book your team or contribute prizes, go to

The ATHOC Foundation was formed 10 years ago by the Industry Association to support families and help give back to the community.  Since this time over $500,000 has been raised.

The ATHOC Foundation has been set up to enable the industry to give back to the community. The Foundation will help fund those that are in need to have a break away from the distressing situations that they are facing.

This year’s golf day will help purchase a specially fitted out mini van for the Musgrave Hill Special School as well as other grants throughout the year.

Posted in 2015 Enews - 02/15, ATHOC Foundation, ATHOC Foundation Charity Golf Day, Australian Timeshare Industry, Events, Upcoming Events | Leave a comment