Not that many decades ago – back in the early 1970’s, to be more precise – there was essentially no such thing as a time-share. In the 40 or so years since time-shares appeared on the scene, the time-share industry has grown dramatically, to the point where today there are more than 9 million time-share owners in the U.S. and more than 1,500 time-share developers. One industry website claims that the number of time-share owners is growing at an average of 16 percent per year (although we wonder how accurate that figure can be in light of the recession of 2007-2010 that appeared to have put a crimp in timeshare sales). Another financial website pegged the average cost of a time-share at $14,500 plus annual fees and other often-hidden costs that can really add up. So you can see that we’re talking about significant amounts of money.
Many time-share owners are happy with their purchases and they use their vacation investment faithfully, racking up points and strategically scouring websites for the weeks and locations they want. But thousands of time-share owners feel differently: they want out. It may be a case of buyer’s remorse, or changing health, or tight finances that trigger this desire to sell a time-share. But in almost every case, once these buyers start investigating their resale options, they discover the painful truth that the time-share resale market is saturated, with far too much time-share inventory chasing far too few buyers.
Desperate time-share sellers can be ripe for scammers – sophisticated thieves who will concoct elaborate and believable deceptions to defraud people out of thousands of dollars in bogus fees. Because the problem is so widespread, and because many victims of time-share fraud are seniors, we strongly encourage you read this article that was just published on the website of the AARP (www.aarp.org). The article reveals how these scam artists prey on the hopes of people who are eager to unload their time-shares at any price.
Here’s how one scam worked against two sisters in their 70s, according to the AARP. These women wanted to sell a Charleston, South Carolina time share they had had since 2012: even though they had used the unit, they regretted the decision to buy, and wanted out of the contract. So one of the sisters placed an ad on a website called “BuyaTimeShare.com.” They soon received a phone call from a man claiming to represent a buyer for the time-share. He said the buyer was a couple from Montreal, and he provided one of the sisters with the couple’s contact information. When the sister contacted the “buyers,” the woman on the phone corroborated the story and emphasized how eager she and her husband were to complete the deal. So far, so good. The seller received official-looking faxed documents, already signed by the alleged buyers, and was asked to send a check for $2,250 to set up escrow and title services, a fee that would later be refunded, the buying agent promised.
You know the rest of the story. The sister never heard from the imaginary buyers or the bogus agent again. She was out more than $2,000, the victim of a scam.
How widespread is this problem? Even though the Federal Trade Commission and local law enforcement keep cracking down, new variations on the scam keep cropping up. AARP reported that one Orlando-based “boiler room” operation conned more than 80,000 people and took in about $24 million – all in the space of about 30 months. Sadly, this particular scheme shows no sign of abating because there always seems to be a fresh supply of willing victims. “One reason the frauds continue is that it is relatively easy for scammers to get the names of time-share owners,” says the AARP article. One attorney in Tennessee who works to stop time-share sales fraud points out that time-share deeds are usually public records. It’s easy for resale scammers to scour public records to find consumers with low-value time-shares. What’s even worse is that some desperate sellers have been victimized multiple times. “Buying a time-share seems to put you on a list,” says one Orlando Police detective. “The list is sold repeatedly back and forth between people, because there are only so many time-shares that are out there. We have people who have been victims of probably seven or eight different companies.”
If you’re trying to get out from under an unwanted time-share contract, the AARP article lists a few helpful pointers and some links to reputable websites where you can arm yourself with legitimate information. Your first call, the experts say, should be to the resort where you bought the time-share, since they may have a formal resale program. Once you list your time-share for sale, prepare for an onslaught of shady “offers” from telemarketers asking you to pay upfront fees – if this becomes part of the pitch, hang up. Make sure you’ve read over your ownership papers so you know your options, and acquaint yourself with the latest scams, because when it comes to fraud there’s always something new.
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Why not take the next step and learn more? Make plans now to attend a free AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar. You’ll find a complete list of currently-scheduled seminars here, including locations, times and online registration. (Or if you prefer, call us for assistance during the week.) It will be our pleasure to meet you at a seminar in your area.
(originally reported at www.aarp.org)