12 On Your Side: Timeshare marketing scams target elderly widow

By: Elizabeth Owens Email
By: Elizabeth Owens Email

News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, April 23, 2012

NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Joanne Howard, 71, has fond memories with her husband at her Myrtle Beach timeshare.

"I could sleep at night and open my eyes up and see the water," she said.

The couple bought the one-bedroom timeshare more than 30 years ago.

Howard's husband passed away a few years ago and their timeshare was the first thing on her list to cut out of her budget.

Howards says the calls began almost immediately after his death. She said the people on the other line were nice and promised to sell her timeshare for her.

"They get to the part they are almost finished and they say OK and you have to pay me so much," she said.

Howard thought paying a few thousands dollars would be worth it in the end to get rid of her vacation spot since she was still paying annual maintenance fees.

However, the company never sold it.

Howard says other companies called her later making the same promise to get rid of her timeshare. Yet, she still owns it even after going through six companies and paying out more than $12,000.

"Just crazy. How crazy I was to do it. But I just had not been thinking straight since my husband passed away," she said.

Howard isn't the only one to get ripped off by a timeshare marketing scam.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation issued this warning earlier this year:
"Timeshare owners across the country are being scammed out of millions of dollars by unscrupulous companies that promise to sell or rent the unsuspecting victims’ timeshares. In the typical scam, timeshare owners receive unexpected or uninvited telephone calls or emails from criminals posing as sales representatives for a timeshare resale company. The representative promises a quick sale, often within 60 to 90 days. The sales representatives often use high-pressure sales tactics to add a sense of urgency to the deal. Some victims have reported that sales representatives pressured them by claiming there was a buyer waiting in the wings, either on the other line or even present in the office.

Timeshare owners who agree to sell are told that they must pay an upfront fee to cover anything from listing and advertising fees to closing costs. Many victims have provided credit cards to pay the fees ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars. Once the fee is paid, timeshare owners report that the company becomes evasive -- calls go unanswered, numbers are disconnected and websites are inaccessible.

In some cases, timeshare owners who have been defrauded by a timeshare sales scheme have been subsequently contacted by an unscrupulous timeshare fraud recovery company as well. The representative from the recovery company promises assistance in recovering money lost in the sales scam. Some recovery companies require an upfront fee for services rendered, while others promise no fees will be paid unless a refund is obtained for the timeshare owner.

The IC3 has identified some instances where people involved with the recovery company also have a connection to the resale company, raising the possibility that timeshare owners are being scammed twice by the same people.

If you are contacted by someone offering to sell or rent your timeshare, the IC3 recommends using caution.

Listed below are tips you can use to avoid becoming a victim of a timeshare scheme:

  • Be wary if a company asks you for upfront fees to sell or rent your timeshare.
  • Read the fine print of any sales contract or rental agreement provided.
  • Check with the Better Business Bureau to ensure the company is reputable.
  • To obtain more information on Internet schemes, visit LooksTooGoodToBeTrue.com. Anyone who believes they have been a victim of this type of scam should promptly report it to the IC3’s website at IC3.gov. The IC3’s complaint database links complaints together to refer them to the appropriate law enforcement agency for case consideration."

In Howard's case, half the companies she gave money to are either listed with an F-rating or warning with the Better Business Bureau. Another is listed on RipoffrReport.com. For the last two, News 12 could not even even find a valid company website.

"Don't trust it ... don't put any money out until you get something," Howard warned.

She said she hopes her costly lesson will save someone else from making the same mistake.

Keep in mind when selling a timeshare to:

  • Check out the company with the Better Business Bureau and with the State Attorney General's Office.
  • Find out if the company a member of the American Resort Development Association.
  • Make sure they are licensed to practice real estate in your state.


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