Spot and Avoid Timeshare Scams
It's unfortunate that there are people who exist only to take advantage and prey upon others misfortune. The timeshare industry is no exception. The following narratives are examples of some of the more common and inventive "abuses" that you might encounter in the timeshare industry
As these scams have existed to part owners from money since the Timeshare industry began years ago, it has become clear that no law enforcement agency is ever going to stop them all and the only guaranteed protection an owner has these days is to be able to spot and avoid them BEFORE becoming a victim!
We promise as you read through this article you will recognize many if not all of the examples provided as being used on you in the past, and if not will most certainly be used to try to part you from your money in the future if you are looking to sell or rent your Timeshare
Upfront Fee Scam
99.9% of ALL scams that target Timeshare owners involve convincing the owner to pay upfront for services rendered!
By far the most prolific and widespread scam surrounding the Timeshare Industry is the "upfront fee" scam. Before I go into details, let me just point out one tip:
NEVER PAY ANYONE ANY MONEY UPFRONT TO BUY, SELL, RENT, CANCEL, DISPOSE OF, ETC YOUR TIMESHARE!!!
It matters little what is said, or how smooth they say it, anyone asking you to pay something upfront to buy, sell or rent your timeshare, is WAY more often than not, attempting to do nothing more than get money from you, with little or no motive or ability to do anything after they receive their money up front.
It can be called an "appraisal fee", a "title search fee", "marketing fee", "advertising fee", "prepaid closing costs", the list goes on and on...no matter what the "fee" is called...once you hear someone asking for you to pay it before they do anything, its time for you to begin walking in the other direction. If you have a car, get in it and drive in the other direction, take a bus or a train if the previous options are unavailable, but get away as quickly as possible.
If you are attempting to sell or rent your timeshare, You will probably be contacted by various timeshare companies wanting to "help" you with the process. Please be careful, many people have been burned on various appraisals schemes and hundreds if not thousands in upfront listing fees. If you have any concerns about an offer or a timeshare company, please ask our members on our Timeshare owner forums, they can help you from falling prey to these schemes. The scammers bulk email in the thousands to anyone selling on the Internet, so chances are...you will be contacted by one or more! One of the biggest red flags out there is any company that "cold contacts" owners about selling or renting for them. absolutely no legitimate company does this in the Timeshare industry, NONE!
The pitch is always the same with a few variations with comments like:
- We have a buyer already, just let me get this upfront fee from you to get things started.
- We just sold your exact timeshare for more than your current asking price, so list it with us and you will easily sell it for that price...we just need this one time fee to get your timeshare listed
- We will GUARANTEE that we will sell your timeshare or your money back...now we just need this fee to get things started!
- We work with large corporations to book multiple rooms at resorts and are in need of your weeks!
- We need you to pay for a "title search" or "sales tax" or "document fees" or some other legitimate sounding fee prior to the sale ever taking place.
- we can help you "Cancel" or otherwise get you out of your timeshare
Each of these pitches are the same, they are all targeted towards desperate owners who need to sell or rent or otherwise get out of their timeshares and have been unsuccessful in doing so in the past, and sadly...in almost all instances of above...the outcome of said transaction is now you are out hundreds if not thousands of dollars more...and have nothing to show for it.
The old adage of "if it is too good to be true, it probably is" applies here without impunity! No one is going to be able to get you to fork over hundreds or thousands of your hard earned cash without telling you something wonderful, the fact is that no one can sell your timeshare for more than its worth, and no one can guarantee you that your timeshare will be sold. Only those individuals who are trying to do nothing more than get that upfront fee will tell you any different!
A simple dose of common sense will tell anyone that if these companies are so successful at their claims they offer these amazing guarantees, wouldn't they be able to charge their fees out of the proceeds of the sale or after it was completed? You would never consider paying a Realtor upfront if he guaranteed to sell your house would you? Fact is, these folks will tell you exactly what you want to hear, because telling you the truth will not result in you paying them money upfront!
You can find hundreds of posts on the TUGBBS forums of individuals who found TUG too late, and were taken not just once, but MULTIPLE times by these upfront fee scammers, and still own their timeshare! If their pitch were not convincing, so many people wouldn't fall for it! You can also find countless references to these scams under many different business names, they change so regularly it is impossible to keep track of who is who, but the red flags always exist no matter what they call themselves! Do not be a victim when you can so easily avoid it!
TUG has a free guide for owners who are looking to sell, and it has been used by thousands of owners year in and year out to successfully sell a Timeshare without being scammed and without paying large upfront fees!
How to Sell your Timeshare yourself and avoid being scammed!
"Get you out of your Timeshare" Legal Assistance Scam
Yet another increasingly popular scheme these days are companies posing as legal entities or even law firms offering to "get you out of your timeshare contract" for an upfront fee of course(see above). These scams just like the one above promising a "buyer" prey on the desperation of Timeshare owners who want nothing more than to be rid of their timeshare. Sadly the only "service" you get from these organizations are letters sent/emailed/etc to the resort demanding they cancel your timeshare contract. Note that this is something you can do yourself, and more and more resorts are working with owners to surrender their weeks as they end their timeshare lifetime, here is an article describing how you can do this very thing yourself and lists all the Timeshare developers that offer Deedback or Surrender programs! Can I give my Timeshare back to the resort?
There is absolutely no legal basis for canceling a legitimate Timeshare contract you signed ( in most cases many months or even years ago). Despite the salesman lying to you, despite you not getting one or more things you were "promised" during the sales presentation, the fact is you signed your sales agreement of your own free will, and I can assure you the resort developer has spent a ridiculous amount of money on their own actual lawyers drafting up said contract. Any "attorney" offering assistance to you in getting out of your contract is merely looking to collect an upfront fee to mail form letters to the resort developer on your behalf "demanding" they cancel your ownership. These outfits should be avoided at all costs. Should you feel especially brazen, offer the outfit twice their fee paid after the timeshare is successfully cancelled, then sit back and listen to the excuses to why they can't or wont do that despite their guarantee of success!
Many of these organizations claim to have ties to state or federal law enforcement agencies (Atty Generals offices, etc etc), rest assured this is also yet another ploy to gain your trust, and ensure you will send them money with zero chance you will have any success. Some even go so far as to lie about being an actual lawfirm, and are not affiliated with any firm or even any lawyers at all! Again none of these cases ever go to court, you are not paying for a lawyer or a team of laywers, the service provided is nothing of the sort!
Another ploy similar to this are organizations that claim the same "legal assistance" to recover funds that you have already paid to an upfront fee scammer! Ever wonder how they knew you were scammed in the first place? Thats right! The very same people that contacted you before claiming they had a buyer for your timeshare and took your $500 bucks, are now contacting you under a different name claiming they can recover that scammed money for you...wait for it...FOR ANOTHER UPFRONT FEE!
As with any and all shady dealings in the Timeshare Industry, if you follow this rule you will protect yourself from 100% of them!
NEVER PAY ANYONE ANY SIGNIFICANT MONEY UPFRONT TO DO ANYTHING WITH YOUR TIMESHARE!
The Post Card Company/Hotel Meeting "presentation"
These scams popped up in the wake of the 2008(ish) recession and solicited timeshare owners thru the mail with a series of post cards or flyers offering to "cancel" or "relieve" owners of their Timeshares. More recently these outfits have moved on from post cards to regular mail flyers within normal looking envelopes that make all sorts of wild claims about how they can:
- Get you out of your Timeshare
- Cancel/End your maintenance fees
- offer a tax deductible way to exit your timeshare
Who wouldn't take that kind of deal or at least go to the meeting to get more information right? It nearly sounds too good to be true!
The Reality is this is not an offer to buy the timeshare, but instead the offer is for the owner to PAY a hefty sum to the organization, and turn over their timeshare to them as well. Owners are mislead into thinking that the moment they sign on the dotted line, they are no longer the owners of this timeshare and that they walk away from the meeting free and clear of their obligation (and a few thousand dollars)...and think nothing more of it. What actually happens is that the documents the owners are signing merely provide power of attorney to said company to attempt to find a new owner for the timeshare at their discretion.
Until that new owner is found, and a proper closing has been completed, the original owner is STILL the owner of that timeshare.
So what happens to my timeshare when I sign over power of attorney?
Great question! Ever notice all of those $1 timeshares on EBAY and other resale outlets? Many of those come from organizations just like these! Despite their claims of "we don't sell timeshares", while that certainly may be true, there is nothing preventing these companies from letting someone ELSE sell it for them. It is extremely common, and they could care less what the sale price is, they have already collected anywhere from $1500 to $7000 dollars from the owners to "rid" themselves of the timeshare in the first place, any more money is pure profit!
Other solutions for finding a new owner include simply contacting the resort on your behalf and initiating a Timeshare Deedback (which you can do yourself by contacting the HOA), which is essentially giving the resort the interval back. While sometimes a fee may be involved, remember they have collected a large sum of money from the owner to begin with, so they can spend a bit of money and still come out way ahead.
An even worse reality in the current slump that exists in the timeshare resale market, is that they are UNABLE to find a new owner for your timeshare before the next years maintenance fee bill comes around. Guess who will receive that bill, that's right...THE ORIGINAL OWNER! Having been mislead into thinking he was leaving that meeting no longer the owner of the timeshare, imagine his dismay to discover the bill for next years fees. Remember, just signing over Power of Attorney does NOT make that person the new owner of your timeshare. It merely grants them the ability to sell it on your behalf (or hand it over to another resale company). it is ONLY when a new owner is found, and the transfer of deeded ownership is complete that you are out of your financial obligation.
Some of you may be questioning these comments and opinions above, however ask yourself this. If you truly were not able to sell your timeshare for any price (even a single dollar), why would any organization voluntarily take it from you for any amount of money? Even if you paid them tens of thousands of dollars, if they truly took ownership of your timeshare as you are led to believe, they would now have to pay the annual maintenance fees for the rest of their lives, and eventually your payment would run out!
This is why these organizations have a list of timeshares they will, and will NOT accept under any circumstances (as if a timeshare truly couldn't be sold or disposed of, no amount of money would be enough for someone to take on a lifetime of obligation to pay the fees), and also why you have to have your timeshare paid in full, and have this years annual maintenance fees paid as well. Thus giving them more time to find a new owner on your behalf, all while pocketing your large check.
What exactly happens at these Meetings?
"Mr. Smooth" contacts a number of people who have advertised their timeshare weeks for sale. "I would like to buy your T/S." He says. "In fact, I'll come to your city, we can meet at a hotel there, and I'll buy your T/S. Bring your deeds with you so that we can finalize the deal on the spot." This invitation may come in the form of a post card in the mail, or other direct mailing, or now even via calls to your home or cell phone.
Based on various phone calls, several potential sellers agree to meet with him. At the designated date and time, a meeting is held in a small conference room of a hotel in a major city. Potential sellers of unwanted timeshares hear that XYZ Company will buy their timeshares for fair market value. They have each been given a folder with information as to the price that will be paid. All of them are ecstatic, because it appears they can finally get rid of these unwanted timeshares.
Best of all, Mr. Smooth tells them that any loss on the sale would be tax-deductible. How sure is he? "Just take a look at this article that our CPAs wrote for us. The article makes it clear that the loss is tax-deductible." Sure enough. The article handed out makes that assertion. (The article was copied from TUG's web site and then changed to make the improper claim).
One additional detail. Mr. Smooth tells them that they can buy into a fabulous vacation club that provides discounts on hotels, car rentals, air fares, cruises, condo weeks, etc. How much? The price is so low that it can only be discussed in individual meetings.
At this point, the group meeting adjourns. Mr. Smooth and his associates each meet separately with the people who attended. In the meeting that we here at TUG are observing today, Mr. Smooth tells an elderly lady that she can buy into the travel club for "only" $6,995. Once she buys the membership, the vacation club will buy her five T/S weeks for a total of $4,000. No more headaches or maintenance fees. Thus, she pays a net of "only" $2,995. And her tax losses on the T/S sales will pay for the cost of membership, according to Mr. Smooth.
In fact, Mr. Smooth and his associates are selling "vacation club" memberships of the type that are often given as an incentive for taking a T/S sales tour. Total value? Somewhere between $0 and a couple of hundred bucks, depending on how one uses the membership. So the result would be that the individual pays $2,995, gives up the ownership to five T/S weeks, has an almost worthless vacation club membership, and is not entitled to the tax benefits that are promised. No thanks. Also note that your timeshare is likely to be turned over to another company to be sold on Ebay for a single dollar, or deeded back to the resort (both options you can do yourself for SIGNIFICANTLY less than the fees charged above).
The Moral of the Story: If it appears too good to be true, it almost certainly is. Don't ever, ever, buy (or sell) on the spot without taking time to evaluate whether you are getting a good deal.
Send Me The Difference Scam
This ploy attempts to get you to accept a forged or counterfeit cashier’s check for more than the amount you agreed to rent or sell your timeshare They then request you to send the balance of the money to the thief via untraceable methods. As it may take a week or more for your bank to discover the fraud, the thief will be counting on your honesty to send the difference balance as soon as possible. Western Union is a favored service since there is no paper trail after the thief picks up his cash at the receiving Western Union office.
These schemes often involve international parties claiming to have someone in the US that will handle the transfer of money for them or something confusing regarding the exchange rate between countries or emails & messages that contain broken or confusing english, or scenarios where you are asked to pay using a money order, or pay a 3rd party, or any other "odd sounding" request are all signs that this individual is trying to scam you!
DO NOT ACCEPT A CHECK FOR MORE THAN THE ASKING PRICE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES!
The Final Word!
I cannot stress enough how many people fall for these scams, as they are EXTREMELY convincing. I can only hope that more people find TUG or this article before being ripped off. If you still have questions or concerns, post your question here on our free Timeshare owner forums and get direct help!
We also provide a handy "Scammer checklist" for owners to use when dealing with an individual or company, it provides a detailed list of all the red flags an owner can encounter when selling or renting a Timeshare, and thus can easily determine if the other party is a scammer! Red flags to Identify a Timeshare scam!
View and discuss this article here on the free TUG Timeshare owner Discussion forums!