Sellers beware- Recent timeshare scams
At the Owner’s Manual, we have noticed an uptick of customers reporting suspicious e-mail correspondence between travel company websites along with telemarketing calls. The fraudulent company will contact the Owner offering to resell your villa. These inquiries usually start with a letter of intent with the asking price or more. While offers are tempting and seem too good to be true, more than likely they are. If a travel resale company offers you more than your original asking price—that should be your first red flag.
Letter of Intent
Rarely we see scammers target renters, however, it is not unheard of. With no qualms taking advantage of the elderly or grieving, the scammers target demographic are typically Owners who are eager to make a sale. The Federal Trade Commission calls this ‘Paying for a Promise’. The promise is that they either have a buyer for your villa or they will personally buy your villa. Another popular claim among scammers is that they are an up-and-coming travel agency who is looking to add to their inventory. All the Owner needs to do is pay a “service fee/ % commission fee”. Once the timeshare Owner agreed, the company would charge an up-front fee, usually of $500 to $2,500.
These ‘fees’ are to cover their company services, taxes, and maintenance fees all upfront. It all seems well and good at first glance, however, legitimate fees are usually paid after the sale or taken from the sale price. Be wary of any upfront fees! The scammers will typically ask you send this via wire transfers, cashier check, money order, or cash. For “legal reasons” they do not accept credit cards or personal checks. Money orders, wire transfers, cash, and cashier checks are forms of payment that are un-traceable by law enforcement once transferred.
Once these dues are sent to the scammers, you are greeted with radio silence, or in other cases they will continue to call demanding more “service fees” for the sale of your villa.
Some unfortunate Owners have reported sending a wire transfer, and when the cashier’s check or money order arrives it’s no good or bounces at the bank. There are also scam companies who double dip by claiming they can help get the victim’s money back, only to charge another upfront fee then disappear once they have the money in hand.
One unfortunate case that was recently reported to the Owner’s Manual was an Owner scammed out of $13,000. Every time she reached out to the company she was tossed around from person to person with no real answer to her questions, nor a way to get her money back.
Another case that was brought to our attention was an inquiry to buy a Royal Sands villa. After they had agreed on a price, the ‘buyer’ in question demanded that they work through an American title company. When the Owner said they would only work through ISCO. The ‘buyer’ told them to “stop being so difficult”. When they tried to find out more information on the buyer, they were met with only dead ends. The ‘buyer’ also claimed to be hearing impaired and refused to give them a phone number or address. Fortunately, there were enough warning signs for these Owners to walk away from the sale.
What should you do if contacted via phone or e-mail?
– Never be afraid to ask questions. If the caller seems hesitant to provide any information, hang up!
– Never give out any personal information over the phone (bank account number, credit card number, or social security number).
– Research the company website. While some company websites look legitimate, see how consistent the reviews are. If they only have 5-star reviews listed, look at the complaints verses the praises.
– Search their address into google maps to confirm it is a legitimate address. Google maps is so advanced now you can even do a street view to confirm the building or store front. A simple copy and paste into Google can save you thousands. Take it a step further and call the business listed under the address to confirm their identity.
– Verify. Do not be afraid to contact the BBB or Federal Trade Commission to confirm their affiliations. You can also contact the State Attorney General and Local Consumer protection Agencies in the state where the ‘buyer’/‘agency’ is located. It’s easy to slap a logo on your website, but is can take just one phone call to confirm if the company is legitimate.
– Get everything in writing. Make sure all contracts clearly state what is promised. Make sure it includes all services and fees.
These scam companies have not gone unpunished. This past year, a Florida-based operation agreed to surrender approximately $15 million dollars from timeshare property Owners. If you are or know a victim of one of these scams. You can report the scam to the Federal trade commission. FTC.gov/Complaint
It is understandable to be eager to sell your villa right away. Research must be taken to assure your safety. If for some reason you are contacted by a company offering to buy your unit, and you feel uneasy about the sale, do not be afraid to hang up. In our day and age, scammers are becoming smarter and more aggressive. It’s best to stay vigilant and be skeptical offers that are too good to be true.
Federal Trade Commission – Timeshare Resale scams