Spotting a Scam: Caveat Emptor!
NOTE: Timeshare owners looking for a legitimate, licensed timeshare resale broker can refer to the Licensed Timeshare Resale Brokers Association as a good place to start.
Just in the United States alone State Attorney General offices and other enforcement agencies across the nation have been inundated with timeshare resale and rental complaints, so much so that some State Attorneys General have moved many of these timeshare resale scammers to the top of their investigative plates.
Although that is all fine and necessary, it is too little too late for untold thousands of timeshare owners across the nation who, in the time it is taking to read this short paragraph, continue to have their hard earned money stolen right out of their bank accounts by resale scammers.
There are just too many of these thieves to expose or catch them all, as they may be operating under one company name today in one jurisdiction only to close down and open up under a new name tomorrow.
Some in fact may remain in the same offices or they may move down the street a few blocks or on to another city, county, state (or country), always staying a few steps ahead of the law and the people they steal from.
Unlike a timeshare resort developer, who has to spend millions of dollars up front to acquire land, get the permits, licenses, bonds, deal with lenders, attorneys and government agencies at various levels, let alone build the resort, etc. these timeshare resale thieves can be up and running in a matter of a couple days or less.
They actually only need to come up with few hundred dollars, get one of those mail-drop services depicting an ‘address’ yet all the while work out of their homes or for a few more dollars they can rent one of the many short term (month to month) office spaces, put up a website, buy some cheap c-phones and they, too, are then fully operational.
An Example of How They Work
This information graph was created by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It presents the issue simply but effectively.
Going After The Big Bucks
We’re not talking about small amounts of money for other resale outfits, either. Most resale scammers are initially asking for thousands of dollars from each owner but they’ll take as little as a couple hundred, and many of these operations are bringing in $10-, $20-, $30,000 or much more each and every week from timeshare owners who have been duped.
The BBB in Arizona has apparently documented a case of one timeshare owner coughing up about $8,000 to a company that took their money but failed to follow through with their promises. Thus, that unfortunate owner still owns the interval and is obligated to the expenses associated with the timeshare plan and that $8-K is in someone else’s bank account.
There are just too many versions of timeshare resale scams to cover them all, and as is the case with the aforementioned company, most have already been named by consumers who have posted information about many scammers on the various online complaint boards such as Ripoffreport.com, Complaintsboard.com, Pissedconsumer.com, and Scambusters.com, RedWeek.com, Tripadvisor.com, etc.
That being duly noted, those boards should never be the only source for verifying the likelihood of a scam since anyone from a disgruntled employee to an upset spouse, etc., can post pretty much whatever they want and once that information is online it is likely to stay there for the foreseeable future.
So here are some guidelines. Keeping in mind that there are many reputable resale companies, it is still wise to be cautious at all times and to paraphrase the comedian Jeff Foxworthy: “You know you’re (likely) being scammed by a timeshare resale thief if…”
If you are contacted via phone.
- Never give out any of your private information, such as bank account number, credit card number, social security number, etc. to anyone you don’t know.
- Do not pay any money to a company until you have a written contract or full details of their services in writing.
- If the caller in any way hesitates to provide you with that information, or tries to extract money from you in advance of providing the information, hang up the phone.
Even if the information IS provided, do further research on the company before giving them any money. Visiting the company’s website is a good place to start (if they don’t have one, walk away.)
When visiting a website first check to see if the names of the company’s principals are listed on the website. It is not enough for them to say (e.g.) “The principals of X Company have a combined 100 years of timeshare experience, are good Christians who help the poor and give most of their money to charity”. If the principals are not named, walk away. If they are listed, you can do a search on those names for more information about them, as is discussed a little further below.
Once in a website, never fill out any information (forms) beyond your first name and a “throw-away” e-mail address (if even that). If the form insists on more information the best advice is to move on to another website.
Another telling sign is the use of unsecured forms from a website requesting detailed information about the owner, including home and work phone numbers, addresses, home-owner or renter information, etc. plus detailed information about their resort including contract numbers and so forth.
As an example, when visiting a website the instructions might say (e.g.) click here for free details and when you do they then request more information before proceeding.
If on that website’s address bar the new page doesn’t change from http:// to https://, then go no further. That means that the information you input is not secured and is open for any identity thief with the knowhow to steal. The letter “s” at the end of the “http” means “secured”. No reputable company will fail to make the private data of its website’s visitors secure.
Also, always visit the “contact us” page and if there is only a phone number (no address, etc.) then this could be a warning sign, too.
In such a case, simply google that phone number. In some cases what you’ll discover is that the number may lead to different websites being operated by the same (or a different) company, or the search results may lead to those complaint boards whereby more information is available regarding that number, the website and company.
When the “contact us” page does have an actual address (e.g. #1 Happy Lane, Hometown America, 66666), it is a good practice to google that address, too.
By googling the address (simply copy and paste it), if they’ve been in business for any length of time a google map will come up in the search results. By clicking on the map the company name should be listed, unless they are using a mail-drop service such as the UPS Store, etc. which likely means one (or both) of two things: 1) they have no brick and mortar office at that location or 2) they don’t want you to know where their real ‘office’ is.
When dealing with any timeshare resale company also always find out in what State the company is operating and then Google that state’s department of corporations (e.g. Arizona Corporation Search).
There a quick search can be done either by the company name or a person’s name (officer, registered agent, etc.) and you can see if they are a registered entity as may be required by law, how long they have been in business, etc. and what their current status is such as ‘Active’, ‘Inactive’, ‘Dissolved’, ‘Revoked’, ‘Permanently Revoked’ and so forth.
The company may also be a DBA (doing business as); that would require searching that State’s Corporation registration site under the Fictitious Name heading to find additional information.
The next area to quickly research is how the company’s website (domain name) is registered. This can be done by googling “domain search”. There you’ll find links to free services for finding and/or registering domain names. By simply typing in the website name (e.g. “google.com”) you’ll discover how long they’ve been online, when the website is due to expire and who the owner (registrant) may be, etc.
There you’ll also discover whether or not the actual ownership of the website is revealed or if the owner of record has used a private registration service to conceal their identity. Note: there are legitimate reasons for companies and individuals to keep their identities private, so that in and of itself does not indicate a potential scam.
Another way to check on a timeshare resale company is to simply Google the company (or person’s) name, address or phone number, as was mentioned earlier. Rest assured if there are any legal issues or negative postings about them from other consumers that information will likely pop up on the very first page of the Google results.
You can also check to see how popular a timeshare resale company is by visiting alexa.com. This site monitors website traffic so if a company claims to be (e.g.) “the most visited website on planet earth” you can verify that as well. If they have no rating at Alexa or are millions down the timeshare resale food chain that, too, can be a cause for concern.
As a comparison only, the well-known timeshare exchange company RCI.com, as of this writing, is ranked as the 10,954 most trafficked website in the world, and in the USA their ranking is 3,389. Not bad in an online universe of billions of web pages and millions of websites.
Lastly, understand that con artists have used and continue to use all tools necessary to make themselves appear to be legit. Tactics include posting on their sites that they are proud members of various charities, associations, BBBs, etc., and they will affix those logos on each page.
Of course even some less than ethical companies actually are members of or are affiliated with such entities, so even if that information is verified and they indeed are members it still does not necessarily mean they are working in the best interest of their clients.
By following the procedures outlined here (it being likely you aren’t the first person a resale scammer has targeted or stolen money from) you’ll be able to expose these thieves for what they are and instead of losing your hard earned money you can move on and locate a legitimate resale timeshare company.
Remember, there are very good companies out there, but you must perform your due diligence to make sure the company you are thinking of doing busines with is one of them.
The aforementioned procedures can potentially ward off thieves and it can be fun, too, and accomplished over a cup or two of coffee before a penny is ever lost. There can even be a bit of a thrill in the “Ah-Ha!” moment of discovering a scam before you have become a victim.
In this era of accessing information for free, a little “private investigator” work can be accomplished in a few brief minutes. Anyone who doesn’t take the time to do so (or have a family member or friend do so for them) and instead jumps in without so much as blinking an eye must live with the outcome.
Timeshare owners looking for a legitimate, licensed timeshare resale broker can refer to the Licensed Timeshare Resale Brokers Association as a good place to start.
Always remember, as we’ve been taught since childhood, Caveat emptor (‘let the buyer, and in this case the seller, beware’).