St. Louis, Mo., Nov. 9, 2010 – Cases of timeshare fraud have become so widespread that they are stretching the ability of law enforcement, regulators and consumer groups to keep up, the Consumer Fraud Task Force says.
Most cases involve businesses that charge timeshare owners up-front fees, promising that they can find buyers for their timeshares. Owners desperate to get out of long-term agreements often pay thousands of dollars and end up with nothing.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says that complaints involving timeshare resale scams have tripled in the last two years.
The Task Force urges consumers to be extremely cautious when dealing with any company that says it either already has sold or can sell their timeshares. Innocent people are being duped by businesses whose only interest is squeezing as much as they can get from as many people as they can.
Recent cases with ties to the St. Louis region highlight the growing problem:
- In June, a Texas truck driver said he paid a timeshare resale company more than $6,000 to market and sell a portion of his timeshare. The company reported an address in a vacant office building in downtown St. Louis.
- In July, an East St. Louis grand jury returned federal indictments against three Florida men for their involvement in a telemarketing scheme targeting timeshare owners throughout North America. The U.S. attorney’s office said the company took more than $1.3 million from 615 consumers in 46 states and Canada.
- In September, a massive crackdown on timeshare resellers in Florida resulted in the closure of seven companies and arrests of four people. One of the companies ordered closed was International Resort Sellers LLC, of Orlando, Fla. The website of International Resort Sellers listed an address in the Westport entertainment and office complex in northwest St. Louis County, but a Florida investigator said the Westport address was simply one of several mail-drops designed to mislead the public and elude investigators. The company’s manager was charged with being an unlicensed commercial telephone seller.
Timeshare fraud has fed on a weak economy and glut of timeshares for sale. Many victims have told law enforcement officials and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) that they trusted the companies to help them, convinced in part by smooth sales representatives, official-looking contracts and impressive websites.
A survey of timeshare resale and marketing websites revealed that many are almost identical. The websites of three timeshare companies used much of the same material and simply seemed to substitute one name for another.
Recently, federal and state investigators have been looking into timeshare recovery companies that claim to be able to help recoup fees paid to questionable timeshare sales businesses. Those companies usually charge advance fees for their help, too.
The Task Force offers the following tips for consumers trying to sell their timeshares:
- Make sure you deal with a company with a legitimate physical address before entering into any agreement. If the company provides an address, confirm that the business is, in fact, located at that site.
- Beware of a firm that asks for fees or taxes before your timeshare is sold.
- Ask for references and contact them to make sure they were satisfied with the company’s work.
- Check a company’s Reliability Report with the BBB at www.bbb.org . You can also check with your state attorney general.
- Ask how long a company has been in business. There may be limited information on companies that have operated for only a brief time.
The FTC recently issued consumer education information on timeshare resale scams. That information can be obtained at: http://ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt185.shtm
The Task Force is a coalition of local, state and federal government agencies and nonprofit business and consumer groups in Missouri and Illinois that work together to protect consumer and donor rights and guard against fraud.
Previous Task Force releases have focused on home remodelers, work-at-home scams, sweepstakes offers, online auctions, credit repair scams, debt management advice, foreclosure scams, extended auto service contracts and fire and police organizations.
To obtain information, or if you think you may be the victim of a scam, you may contact members of the Task Force:
Federal Trade Commission – (877) FTC-HELP (382-4357); http://www.ftc.gov.
U.S. Postal Inspection Service – (877) 876-2455; http://postalinspectors.uspis.gov.
Better Business Bureau www.bbb.org.