When someone contacts you out of the blue saying there is some kind of government “fund” available to compensate you for that timeshare in Mexico you wish you didn’t own or to recover money you believe you were scammed out of in any of dozens of ways, put your skeptic’s hat on: Most likely you have become the target of a “refund” or “recovery” scam.
In the most common timeshare recovery scams operating from Mexico, timeshare owners are contacted by someone impersonating a government official or pretending to be affiliated with various government agencies or designated by them to perform investigations or other services. The scammers convince their marks that the government has set up a fund to recompense people who were cheated by various timeshare companies; often the amount to be refunded is more than the victims originally paid. All the potential victims have to do is wire money to cover various fees and taxes, and the refund will be sent to them. Alternately the scammers might pretend to be associated with some Mexican court case designed to recover funds related to some type of fraud.
Very authentic-looking documents are sent, all of which are forgeries (except the bank wire documents for wiring funds to the scammers).
One of the most prevalent scams begins with an email that starts something like this:
Subprocuraduría de Servicios de Verificación is the entity appointed by P.G.R. to filter and conduct investigation on all victimized foreign vacation investment owners and present them to CONDUSEF for restitution. P.G.R. in conjunction with CONDUSEF have seized a number of financial accounts and real estate assets amounting in millions of dollars from a number of “Resort Marketing and Timeshare” call centers and scam offices involved in fraudulent transactions within the timeshare industry.
Guess what? THERE ARE NO FUNDS. There is no government agency providing such a service. It is all a lie. If you see or hear anything that resembles that paragraph, rest assured that it is a SCAM!
One dead giveaway in most of these scams is the email address used by the scammers. Take special note of this: ALL Mexican government agencies have an email address that ends like this: (dot)gob.mx (.gob.mx)
Email addresses used by the scammers pretending to be with a government agency will often end like this: (dash)gob.mx (-gob.mx)
Do you see the subtle (but important) difference?
The fake email addresses will end with something like this: (xxxx)@subprocu-verificacion-gob.mx ; (xxxx)@profeco-gob.mx; xxx(@condusef-gob.mx and so on. In other cases, because potential victims are catching on to that, they have begun to change the domains to something like subprocu.com; note that NO AGENCY OF THE GOVERNMENT WILL END WITH A .COM If you are unsure, copy and paste that email domain into the address bar of your browser; in almost every case you will discover there is no website associated with it because it has been registered for email purposes only.
The banks used in the wire transfers are legitimate banks but the “escrow” or other types of accounts used are set up by the scammers in such a way that the money goes directly to them. In addition, the scammers often set up what appear to be real accounts – accessed online – showing their victims various amounts of money sitting in accounts under their names, just waiting for them to send some sort of fee so the money can be released.
Dont’ be fooled: Those accounts exist only on the Internet; they are not real!
AGAIN: No government agency in Mexico is involved in any way in a recovery of funds for you related to timeshare fraud.
- There is no special account set up in your name;
- there are no individual attorneys or other “officials” designated by the government to act on your behalf, although some corrupt former government officials (and current ones?) are alleged to be in on it.
- The very authentic documents shown to you are all forgeries.
- Do not send any money, no matter how convincing the are or how much you want it to be true!
As the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) tells us:
Refund and Recovery Scams
Scam artists buy and sell “sucker lists” with the names of people who already have lost money to fraudulent promotions. These crooks may call you promising to recover the money you lost or the prize or merchandise you never received — for a fee in advance. That’s against the law. Under the Telemarketing Sales Rule, they cannot ask for — or accept — payment until seven business days after they deliver the money or other item they recovered to you.
How the Scams Work
Many consumers might not know that they have been scammed by a bogus prize promotion, phony charity drive, fraudulent business opportunity or other scam. But if you have unknowingly paid money to such a scam, chances are your name is on a “sucker list.” That list may include your address, phone numbers, and other information, like how much money you’ve spent responding to phony offers. Dishonest promoters buy and sell “sucker lists” on the theory that people who have been deceived once have a high likelihood of being scammed again.
Here are some tips to help you avoid losing money to a recovery scam:
- IT’S ALWAYS A SCAM IF SOMEONE SUPPOSEDLY REPRESENTING A GOVERNMENT AGENCY ASKS FOR PAYMENT IN RELATION TO AN INVESTIGATION.
- Don’t believe anyone who calls offering to recover money, merchandise, or prizes you never received if the caller says you have to pay a fee in advance.
- If someone claims to represent a government agency in the U.S.A. that will recover your lost money, merchandise, or prizes for a fee or a donation to a charity, report them immediately to the FTC. National, state, and local consumer protection agencies and nonprofit organizations do not charge for their services.
- Before you use any company to recover either money or a prize, ask what specific services the company provides and the cost of each service. Check out the company with local government law enforcement and consumer agencies; ask whether other people have registered complaints about the business. You also can enter the company name into an online search engine to look for complaints.
- Don’t give out your credit card or checking account numbers in an attempt to recover money you have lost or a prize you never received.
The people operating these scams in Mexico are experts at it; they’ve been doing it for a long time and have it down to a science. Forewarned is forearmed!
What you need to do if you are a victim of a scam is contact the authorities:
- Your local police; There’s little they can do, but it does provide an official record
- your state and federal assemblyman/congressman and senators
- your state attorney general’s office; (or the RCMP or the Office of Consumer Affairs if you’re in Canada;) Make sure to mention it is a transnational, multi-state scam so they can coordinate with other attorneys general
- the FBI via IC3 (a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center. The IC3 not only collects complaints but also analyzes them, links similar complaints, and discerns patterns in order to help law enforcement identify the scammers);
- the US Marshals Service;
- Interpol – United States Central Bureau; Interpol’s databases help law enforcement see the big picture of international crime. While other agencies have their own extensive crime databases, the information rarely extends beyond one nation’s borders. Interpol can track criminals and crime trends around the world. They maintain collections of fingerprints and face photos, lists of wanted persons, DNA samples and travel documents. Their lost and stolen travel document database alone contains more than 12 million records. They also analyze all these data and release information on crime trends to the member countries.
- the Department of Justice – Office of International Affairs; and anyone else you can think of.
It isn’t likely to help you get any of your funds back, but eventually it might help obtain some sort of justice in shutting them down/getting some of them arrested.
For more information about specific recovery scams, this link will take you to our GateHouse blog’s coverage of the issue.