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Don’t be left in the cold by timeshare resale scams

2/4/2016 9:28:02 AM

Minnesotans might be tempted by timeshares in sunny locales to escape the harsh winter weather. But after the sales pitch is over and the paperwork is signed, many owners find timeshares to be more of a hassle than an opportunity.

Once purchased, timeshares can be difficult, if not impossible, to resell. Scammers seize on this frustration by contacting desperate sellers and promising to help them find a buyer -- for a price, of course.   

The Minnesota Department of Commerce is alerting consumers that timeshare resale scams have multiplied in recent years, causing owners to lose tens of thousands of dollars as a result of false promises and upfront fees. 

“We have uncovered numerous schemes in recent years where sham companies preyed on owners trying to sell their timeshare properties,” said Minnesota Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. “Scammers take the money and run, never to be heard from again. Consumers should never pay someone an upfront fee to sell a timeshare."

A timeshare owner may be contacted by someone who claims to be an eager buyer or an agent who promises they can sell the property at a good price.  The alleged buyer may be someone from Mexico or another Latin American country who supposedly wants to purchase property in the United States.

The only catch? To smooth the way for the sale, the timeshare owner is asked to make an upfront payment for closing costs, taxes or other fees. The seller is usually told to wire funds to a bank account outside the United States, with a promise that the money will be held in escrow.  

Often, the story ends right there, with the timeshare owner never hearing from the fraudulent buyer or agent again. Or the owner may be asked to send yet more money to pay for additional costs that have suddenly “come up.”  Either way, the owner ends up losing money.

To make matters worse, the Commerce Department has found that some of these fraudsters will hijack the names and credentials of legitimate businesses registered with the Minnesota Secretary of State.  

Consumer Tips

The Commerce Department offers Minnesotans the following tips to avoid timeshare resale scams:

  • Don’t pay upfront fees. Legitimate fees should be paid as part of the closing or deducted from the sale price.
  • Don’t wire money or send a money order or cashier’s check. It is almost impossible to recover these funds if you have been scammed.
  • Be wary of an overeager buyer.  Scammers identify timeshare owners through public databases and real estate records. They will cold call or mail materials, offering purchase terms that are often too good to be true. These tactics are a red flag that the offer could be a scam. 
  • Do some homework. Check the would-be buyer or agent’s name, phone number and address on the Internet. If you have trouble finding information, or what you find looks suspicious, the offer could be a scam.

Commerce is here to help

If you have a concern or complaint about a possible timeshare resale scam, contact the Minnesota Department of Commerce Securities Section at securities.commerce@state.mn.us or 651-539-1637.

You may also wish to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (www.ftc.gov) or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (www.consumerfinance.gov).

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