Watch out for new twists in long-standing time-share scams that target owners who are desperate to unload unwanted units.
One new tactic: Promise help to people who’ve already been hit.
Time-share owners already swindled of upfront fees on the promise of a quick sale are being contacted by so-called fraud recovery specialists who promise they can recoup the money. The Internet Crime Complaint Center reports cases “where people involved with the recovery company also have a connection to the resale company, raising the possibility that time-share owners are being scammed twice by the same people.”
For several hundred dollars upfront, the so-called fraud recovery firms may deliver nothing more than forms or instructions on how to file complaints with government watchdog agencies — they’ll do no actual legwork on your behalf. And such complaints can be filed for free by contacting the Federal Trade Commission or your state attorney general offices.
In another variation, scammers don’t promise to sell units, but to rent them out, sometimes claiming to already have clients who are interested.
The so-called rental companies may demand advance payment for placement, management or maintenance services. If the time-share is located in another country, they sometimes tack on additional fees supposedly required in that country.
These new schemes may be cropping up because the heat is on concerning the old scams of promising a time-share sale, then taking fees and heading for the hills. There’s been widespread publicity about these cons, and federal and state officials have already shut down a number of unscrupulous resellers.
Florida, meanwhile, has enacted the country’s first law aimed at time-share fraud — about a third of all U.S. time-share units are located in that state. The measure goes into effect in July.
The law makes it illegal to charge upfront fees greater than $75 within a 12-month period without a signed agreement, and gives time-share owners up to 10 days to cancel such arrangments, no questions asked. Violators face a $15,000 fine per violation.
Even so, last year the Better Business Bureau received more than 2,600 complaints about time-share resellers — and another 200 in January of this year. Recently, the FBI has renewed its warnings about these schemes.
Here are the two basic ways to avoid them.
1. If you’re trying to sell a time-share, first check with your resort about any resale programs it offers. Look at newsletters that have "for sale" listings or partnerships with local real estate agents. Expect to pay 10 to 30 percent commission to legitimate agents for time-share resales — paid after the deal goes through.
2. When listing your time-share online for sale or rent, stick with legitimate websites such as redweek.com or tug2.net, which may charge up to $75 a year. Scammers often run their own websites, but listings there can cost much more — with no results.
Also of interest: Great U.S. destinations for 2012.
Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.