Vampires, werewolves, and ghosts are all pretty spooky, we admit. But the Halloween ghoulies that creep up each fall are nothing compared to a very real threat that targets unsuspecting Americans all year long – the timeshare resale scam.
This pernicious – and all-too-common – scheme dupes hundreds of consumers out of thousands of dollars every single year. As regular readers of our News Room can attest, it often seems like not a week goes by without word of some fresh scam targeting timeshare owners coming down from a consumer protection watchdog or news agency – and to us, that’s pretty frightening!
How does this tricky scam work, and what can timeshare owners do to avoid getting ensnared in the first place? Let’s explore…
How Do Timeshare Scams Work?
Due to rising maintenance fees, confounding reservation systems, and poor rates of customer satisfaction, many timeshare owners are eager to get out from under their interests quickly, and at whatever cost necessary. It is this eagerness – some may say “desperation” – that makes timeshare owners such easy prey for scammers and con artists.
Broadly speaking, the common timeshare resale scam can be broken down into five fairly predictable steps:
- A company contacts the consumer by phone or online, offering to sell their timeshare quickly. More often than not, this company is quick to claim that the market for timeshare resales is hot, and that they already have buyer requests lined up and ready to make a deal.
- The alleged timeshare reseller requests upfront fees, claiming that they’re necessary to cover common line items like closing costs, registration fees, or property taxes. For expediency’s sake, the company claims, these fees must be paid by sending cash or wiring money (in reality, they request the use of these methods because, with them, it’s all but impossible for a consumer to recover their funds after the fact).
- The consumer pays the fees, which may total up into the thousands of dollars. After this step…
- The alleged resale company all but drops off the face of the earth; they may become uncommunicative or evasive, or they may completely scrub away their digital footprints. In either case, after days, weeks, or months of waiting, the consumer tends to realize that there never was a buyer – and that they’re not going to get their money back, even if there was some sort of refund “guarantee” in place.
- At this point, the scammers may try to “fool ‘em twice” by double-dipping; that is, they may reach out to the consumer again, posing as yet another business, offering to help recover the money lost in the first scam… for yet another fee. Of course, once it’s paid, this company becomes just as unresponsive as the first, and the consumer is left even deeper in debt – and still on the hook for the very timeshare payments and fees they were likely trying to be rid of in the first place!
How Can Timeshare Owners Avoid Getting Caught Up In a Scam?
With all of this in mind, there are several important points that timeshare owners can and should keep in mind when considering entering the secondary market, courtesy of consumer protection groups including the FTC and the BBB.
Here are a few important points to remember:
Take every offer with a grain of salt
Remember that the timeshare resale market has been consciously suppressed for years now, and that it is not uncommon for sellers to offer to pay closing costs on behalf of buyers; with this in mind, how likely is it really that there are buyers clamoring for your interest?
As the FTC puts it, “never pay for a promise” – particularly one that comes to you unsolicited, via a cold call or “out of the blue” email.
Research every offer related to your timeshare
Don’t hesitate to research any and all companies that make you an offer in regards to selling, transferring, or quote-unquote “cancelling” your timeshare obligation. Use every resource at your disposal, including the BBB and consumer protection agencies for your state.
If any details seem amiss (i.e., locations or names don’t add up, significant pieces of contact information are missing, no reviews or testimonials seem to exist), don’t hesitate to reach out to a consumer protection official to lodge a query or complaint; taking this step could well prevent other consumers from being bilked down the line.
Never wire money or send cash
As we’ve already mentioned, sending money upfront by one of these methods is dangerous, as it’s likely that you’ll never be able to recover your payments once they’ve been made.
While you should always be careful and vigilant about paying money upfront, be particularly cautious if something smells fishy – for instance, if you’re being asked to send money abroad, if the sum seems too large, or if you’re being asked to pay into a personal account.
Just as garlic wards off vampires, so too can increased vigilance protect consumers from being scammed out of their hard-earned money. Have any more questions about what it takes to get out from under a burdensome timeshare interest? We’d be happy to help!
Led by Attorney Michael D. Finn with 50 years of experience, the Finn Law Group is a consumer protection firm specializing in timeshare law. Our lawyers understand vacation ownership as well as the many pitfalls of the secondary market of timeshare resales. If you feel you have been victimized by a timeshare company, contact our offices for a free consultation. Know your rights as a consumer and don’t hesitate to drop us a line with any questions or concerns.