It’s no surprise families flock to Florida when they need some time away. The sun, the surf, and the sand are irresistible to both residents and visitors. And since 96% of Americans believe vacation time is important, it’s understandable that Florida saw a record-breaking number of visitors in 2017. According to Visit Florida, 116.5 million people visited the Sunshine State last year.
That said, not every Floridian vacation fulfills its promise to become a dream come true — particularly for those who have fallen victim to timeshare scams.
As you may already know, purchasing a timeshare in Florida (or anywhere else, for that matter) isn’t seen as a particularly sound financial investment. Although 3% of U.S. households own a timeshare, the reality is that the costs associated with timeshare ownership end up being much more substantial than, say, booking a condo rental or staying in a hotel every year. A timeshare sales pitch may sound like an incredible opportunity at first, but many owners soon express regret over maintenance fees and the hardship they face trying to get rid of their timeshare.
The timeshare resale market a difficult one to navigate; if you do manage to find a legitimate buyer, you’ll likely end up losing a small fortune, as the value of a timeshare depreciates significantly after its initial purchase. But the “finding a legitimate buyer” part is a lot more difficult than you might think. In many cases, criminals posing as interested buyers end up defrauding owners and causing even more financial hardship in the end.
A recent report in the Orlando Sentinel explains: “The Orlando area is home to thousands of timeshare units and is the headquarters for big timeshare companies such as Westgate Resorts, Wyndham Vacation Club and Marriott Vacations Worldwide. Timeshare sales have surged since the Great Recession, but so have lawsuits and complaints about aggressive sales tactics — along with a rise in scams related to timeshare resales and timeshare cancellation.”
In fact, a number of alleged criminals have recently been charged with running timeshare scams in the Orlando area. Earlier this month, two men were ordered by the Federal Trade Commission to surrender $3.4 million in residential property, cars, jewels, and expensive jewelry they purchased with the money they reportedly made from timeshare resale scams. Only a couple of weeks later, another Orlando resident was accused of defrauding more than a dozen timeshare owners out of at least $88,000. In that case, the man (who posed as a real estate agent) somehow managed to attain an A+ rating on the Better Business Bureau’s website — perhaps using a tactic that’s become a favorite of those who perpetrate these crimes: stealing the name of a now-retired, non-active realtor.
According to the Better Business Bureau and other experts, consumers need to be extremely cautious when trying to sell a timeshare. Because the market is so overcrowded and there are countless owners looking to get out of this same situation, unscrupulous people will try to take advantage. Often, these individuals may call or otherwise contact timeshare owners out of the blue, assuring them that they already have buyers lined up and that they can guarantee the timeshare will sell quickly. They may add that there’s an upfront fee required for these services — and that’s what should make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
If you want to avoid becoming a victim of a timeshare resale scam, here’s what you should do.
- Obtain the resale company’s name and address, as well as the name and contact info for the person who has contacted you
- Conduct a thorough Google search using this information (and make sure to add the word “scam” to the end in the search bar to see what comes up)
- If the company has a website (and they should), check for detailed information; if there is none, assume it’s a scam
- Agree to nothing over the phone and request to have written materials sent to you
- Ask whether the company’s salespeople are licensed to sell real estate in the area of your timeshare and verify this with the state’s licensing board
- Do not give out any information about yourself or about your timeshare when receiving blind calls
- Never pay upfront fees to anyone who offers to sell your timeshare (the only legitimate fees could be their commission at the close of escrow)
- Contact your state Attorney General’s office, the BBB, local consumer protection agencies, or your state’s Real Estate department to inquire whether the company is licensed and/or has had any complaints lodged against them
- When in doubt, you can contact your timeshare resort (to inquire about a give-back or resale program), a real estate attorney, or a realtor with experience in timeshare resales
In some cases, the chance to unload a timeshare can sound every bit as enticing as the original timeshare purchase offer. But in both situations, you need to be smart about your vacation property and plans. Be sure to conduct ample research before deciding to dive in — or you could regret it in the end.