Washington State Joins Federal Trade Commission in Multi-State, Multi-National Law Enforcement Initiative
SEATTLE, WA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced today the filing of a major timeshare consumer protection case as part of the joint multi-state, multi-national law enforcement initiative coordinated by the Federal Trade Commission.
AG Ferguson has filed a complaint against Jonathan and Christine Gibbs of Olympia for unlawful conduct. The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) alleges the Gibbs offered to transfer timeshare ownership from owners who no longer wished to own their timeshares. They allege the couple would then facilitate a “transfer” but would not pay the underlying obligation or maintenance on the properties. In some cases, consumers paid the Gibbs to execute transfers, which were improperly executed. Without telling consumers, they transferred timeshares to their own businesses or paid people to have their signatures put on title documents.
“If you don’t play by the rules, we’ll hold you accountable,” said Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson. “This large, complex scheme involved unfair and deceptive business practices that harmed hundreds of victims locally and thousands nationwide.”
The Gibbs claim to have handled over 30,000 timeshare transfers. The AGO has identified at least 1,500 Washington consumers as victims of the Gibbs’ timeshare scheme.
Typically, deceptive timeshare resellers claim to have ready buyers who will pay top dollar for consumers’ timeshare properties and trick consumers into dishing out hefty up-front fees. The resellers falsely claim that they can sell consumers’ properties, although no buyers are in place. Consumers ultimately end up losing hundreds or thousands of dollars in bogus closing costs and unsold properties. Many of these scammers also promise refunds to consumers, but most consumers never get their money back.
Other deceptive vacation sales practices involve promoters tricking consumers into purchasing deeply discounted or “free” vacation packages supposedly worth thousands of dollars; however, most consumers receive nothing of value or are required to attend lengthy high-pressure timeshare sales presentations.
Today’s announcement coincides with the announcement of more than 80 civil actions by the FTC and more than 27 states, including criminal prosecutions brought by U.S. Attorneys nationwide and local law enforcement; and actions by international law enforcement agencies in seven countries.
The case against Jonathan and Christine Gibbs is part of Ferguson’s continuing efforts to stop travel and timeshare scams and protect consumers from fraud and deception in the marketplace.
To protect against these types of frauds, Ferguson provides these tips.
Signs It’s a Travel Scam:
• You “won a free vacation,” but you have to pay some fees first.
• The prize company wants your credit card number.
• They cold-call, cold-text, or email you out of the blue. Before you do business with any company you don’t know, call the Attorney General and local consumer protection agencies in the company’s home state to check on complaints; then, search online for consumer complaints.
• They don’t — or can’t — give you specifics.
• You get pressure to sign up for a travel club for great deals on future vacations.
• You get a robocall about it. Robocalls from companies are illegal if you haven’t given a company written permission to call you; even if you haven’t signed up for the national Do Not Call Registry.
Tips to Avoid a Timeshare Release Scam:
• Check out the company before you agree to anything. See if the Attorney General and local consume protection agencies in the company’s home state have complaints, then search online for complaints.
• Deal only with licensed real estate brokers or agents.
• Get all terms in writing before you agree to anything.
• Consider doing business only with someone who gets paid after the timeshare is sold.
• Be alert to a repeat scam.
The Office of the Attorney General is the chief legal office for the state of Washington with attorneys and staff in 27 divisions across the state providing legal services to roughly 200 state agencies, boards and commissions. Attorney General Bob Ferguson is working hard to protect consumers and seniors against fraud, keep our communities safe, protect our environment and stand up for our veterans.