By: Chris Kelley, this article originally appeared in the April issue of Boston SENIORITY Magazine
If you are one of the million or so people trying to get rid of a timeshare, a word of warning: proceed with extreme caution. The Better Business Bureau has listed the timeshare resale market as one of the top ten scams in the country.
With the weak economy, many timeshare owners, especially retired folks, can no longer afford to take regular vacations or pay their annual maintenance fees. They become desperate to recoup the money they spent, which makes them vulnerable to the scammers who, like sharks, can smell blood.
A close call
Take the story of Noah Wolf, as reported in Boston.com. After listing his timeshare, Noah was approached by a fictitious Boston company called Property Consultant Services. The company claimed to have a buyer offering double the appraised value for Noah’s timeshare. All Noah had to do was pay $1,092 in advance for a title search. Not to worry though, Noah was told, the money he put up would be held by an escrow company, which was also fictitious.
Luckily Noah saw through the scheme, even though the company claimed to have offices in the glass-and-steel skyscraper safest ways to get rid of their unwanted timeshares.
The biggest clue this was a scam? A demand for up-front cash, says Brent Maggio, an owner of Timeshare Specialists, a BBB certified company based in Montana that freely educates timeshare owners about the best and safest ways to get rid of their unwanted timeshares.
Not so lucky
Not everyone is as fortunate as Noah. Esther Bilicki lost more than $15,000 in a timeshare scam that claimed more than 1,400 victims with over $2 million in losses, as reported on CBS46.com.
And Earl Nelson, a retired Greyhound bus driver from Idaho, lost $40,000 to timeshare scammers; as reported on KBOI2.com. Earl had a timeshare for sale in Orlando and was initially relieved when a selling agent called with a buyer.
“Even though you may have listed your property on safe websites with proven track records, get ready to be bombarded by fake brokers and buyers,” Maggio says. “These people have no interest in your timeshare, just your money.”
In Earl’s case, the broker told him the buyer was a U.S. Citizen living in Nicaragua. Immediately after convincing Earl to wire about $20,000 to cover taxes from the sale, the broker said there was another problem—a mistake on the international paperwork. Someone posing as an IRS agent then called Earl. Thinking he was in trouble with the government, Earl continued to wire money in hopes of clearing his name. He eventually realized he was being robbed and called the FBI, but not before his retirement fund was drained.
Even if you start off suspicious of potential scammers, a good con artist will help you get over your skepticism. They create professional looking websites, business cards and phone numbers, disguise their IP addresses and even pose as real people from legitimate companies and organizations.
And they’ll come at you from all angles. Here’s a tricky one. After you think you’ve sold your timeshare, the con-artist will send you a cashier’s check that’s accidentally made out for too much. The scammer will actually tell you to cash it, but please send back the excess. Days later, you’ll learn the buyer and the cashier’s check were phony—and you’ll be out hundreds, sometimes thousands of dollars.
“If you get scammed, don’t be surprised if someone calls saying they can help recover your losses,” Maggio warns. “It’s probably the same person who scammed you the first time.”
Playing it safe
After hearing countless heartbreaking stories of scams from distraught timeshare owners, Maggio and his partners at Resort
Closings Inc., an escrow and timeshare closing company with an A+ rating from the BBB, decided to start Timeshare Specialists.
“It was a way to educate sellers on the scams and to present them with positive alternatives for getting rid of their timeshares,” Maggio says. “It is important they know that they have options like donating it to a charity.”
In some cases a timeshare is in such low demand that it’s nearly worthless. In those cases, Maggio says, Timeshare Specialists offers a guaranteed transfer program, where his company will creatively market the week to new owners with incentives like free usage. Owners do have to pay for these services, but nothing is due until the timeshare is sold and transferred to a new owner, just like a normal real estate closing.
“These services are in high demand,” Maggio says. “Once you list a week, the scam calls will start coming in. Even if you can weed out the conmen, selling a timeshare is still a complicated and time consuming process that some owners want to avoid altogether.”
For more free advice about scams as well as alternative solutions to the timeshare resale market visit www.Timesharespecialists.com.
Chris Kelley is a freelance writer who hates scams, scammers and the very thought of anyone getting scammed. You can contact him at email@example.com.