Uncovering Timeshare Telemarketing Fraud
Timeshare owners, especially those in the 55+ demographic, must be on guard against scammers utilizing deceptive tactics to exploit their trust. A recent case in New Jersey with connections to Florida serves as an example of what fraudulent individuals are capable of and proves that timeshare owners should remain aware of these nefarious schemes.
U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger announced charges against seven individuals involved in a telemarketing scheme that defrauded timeshare owners over the age of 55. Three of the defendants have pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, while four others face multiple counts of wire fraud, tax evasion, and theft of government funds.
The case revolves around a timeshare fraud scheme operated through businesses collectively known as “WAB.” From October 2016 to October 2020, the defendants participated in a scheme to enrich themselves by selling fraudulent services to timeshare owners. These services included false offers to rent or buy timeshare properties and deceptive claims of helping owners recover money previously lost to other scams.
According to the Department of Justice, the conspirators made numerous false and misleading statements to the timeshare owners, including falsely stating that the timeshare owners had “bonus” timeshare weeks which WAB would rent for them in return for an upfront fee, and falsely guaranteeing thousands of dollars in rental income for the timeshare owners. Once the timeshare owners had signed up and paid their fees for the phony rental services, the conspirators also generally pitched collections/recovery services, offering to obtain refunds of monies previously paid by the timeshare owners in other fraudulent scams, in return for fees. The conspirators made numerous false and misleading statements in many instances to both timeshare owners and their credit card companies.
Why are seniors targeted for timeshare telemarketing fraud?
Seniors are often targeted by timeshare telemarketing scams for several reasons:
- Financial Resources: Seniors may have accumulated savings, retirement funds, and other assets over their lifetimes, making them attractive targets for scammers seeking financial gain.
- Trusting Nature: Some seniors may be more trusting and less likely to suspect malicious intent, making them more susceptible to fraudulent pitches.
- Isolation: Some seniors may live alone or have limited social interaction, which can make them more vulnerable to engaging with strangers over the phone. Scammers may exploit feelings of loneliness or a desire for connection.
- Health Concerns: Scammers may take advantage of seniors’ health-related concerns by offering fraudulent health products, insurance plans, or medical services.
- Lack of Familiarity with Technology: Seniors who are not as familiar with modern technology may be less likely to recognize warning signs of scams, such as caller ID spoofing, robocalls, or phishing emails.
- Cognitive Decline: Age-related cognitive decline can impair judgment and make it harder for seniors to identify scams and make informed decisions.
It’s important to note that while seniors are often targeted, individuals of any age can fall victim to timeshare scams. Consumer education, vigilance, and awareness of common scam tactics can help protect individuals from falling victim to telemarketing scams.
How do scammers operate?
The conspirators involved in the New Jersey case obtained lists of timeshare owners and their contact information, making cold calls to pitch their fraudulent timeshare services, often in exchange for upfront fees. They used false and misleading statements to persuade owners to sign up, including claims of guaranteed rental income and promises to recover lost funds. Once the owners paid for these sham services, the conspirators continued to offer additional fraudulent services, such as timeshare buyouts and takeovers.
Spotting Fraudulent Offers and High-Pressure Sales Tactics
Timeshare owners should be wise and cautious when confronted with any unexpected offers concerning their timeshare properties. It is also essential to verify the legitimacy of any company or service that presents such offers before providing any form of payment or divulging personal information. A cautious approach is particularly warranted in cases where the company makes claims of guaranteed sales or rental income or promises to recover lost funds from previous timeshare investments. These types of offers should be carefully scrutinized, especially if they involve the payment of upfront fees.
It is important to understand that some companies making such offers may not have the legal capacity to fulfill their promises. There are several reasons why these types of companies may be unable to legally provide the services they claim:
Lack of Legal Authority: Companies that claim to guarantee sales and rental income or recover lost funds may not have the legal authority or necessary licensing to engage in such activities. These operations may be in violation of real estate, financial, or consumer protection regulations.
Deceptive Practices: Some companies may utilize deceptive practices, such as misrepresenting their services or making false guarantees, to attract timeshare owners. These companies may not have any intention or capability to fulfill their promises and may simply be seeking to collect upfront fees.
Unenforceable Contracts: In some cases, companies may offer contracts with terms that are unfair, ambiguous, or unenforceable. Such contracts may not provide the protections or recourse that timeshare owners expect.
High-Pressure Sales Tactics: Fraudulent companies may employ high-pressure sales tactics to coerce timeshare owners into making quick decisions without adequate time for research or consultation. These tactics may include aggressive phone calls, false deadlines, or fear-based messaging.
Limited Market Demand: Even if a company claims to have a successful track record of renting out timeshares, market demand for timeshare rentals can be unpredictable and may not support the rental income guarantees offered.
Given these considerations, timeshare owners should approach unsolicited offers with skepticism and conduct thorough due diligence before entering into any agreements. It is advisable to seek legal advice from a timeshare attorney, research the company’s reputation, and review any contracts carefully. By taking these precautions, timeshare owners can better protect themselves from potential scams and avoid financial losses.
Reporting suspicious activity
The growing number of timeshare telemarketing frauds is a major concern, yet law enforcement are making strides to trace and punish perpetrators. To help protect yourself as well as others from falling prey to these scams, it’s essential for timeshare owners to be proactive in reporting any questionable activities directly to the FTC through IC3.gov or state attorney general. Staying alert can make all the difference when it comes to guarding against this type of deceptive behavior.
Ultimately, those who have been wrongfully scammed in timeshare situations must contact their banking institution or credit card company to file a complaint and request reimbursement. This not only safeguards them from further fraud but may also offer vital proof when criminal investigations arise against the perpetrators of such schemes. By following these prevention strategies, timeshare owners can minimize their risk of being taken advantage of by fraudulent scammers.
Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only and is not intended to provide legal advice. If you have been the victim of a timeshare telemarketing scam, please speak with a timeshare attorney who specializes in consumer protection and civil litigation.
Led by attorneys J. Andrew Meyer and Michael D. Finn with over 75 years of combined legal experience. The Finn Law Group is a consumer protection firm that specializes in timeshare law. Based in St. Petersburg, Florida, our attorneys understand vacation ownership as well as the many pitfalls of the secondary market and timeshare resales. We protect our clients’ rights to ensure that their vacation dreams aren’t turned into a nightmare. If you have any questions regarding your timeshare, contact us for a free consultation today at 855-FINN-LAW