A guide to avoiding timeshare scams

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Fraudsters prey on seniors; here’s how to hold onto your money and credit cards

By Madison Blancaflor  |  Published: July 11, 2018

The FTC named timeshare scams one of the top frauds of 2017, making it one of the
largest threats to travel security in the U.S. People are drawn in with the
promise of a free vacation or “great deal on a slice of paradise,” only to be
stuck with a condo you’re only allowed to use one week out of the year and
no way to get rid of it. 

What
is a timeshare? 

The timeshare industry was born in the 1970s,
and according to the American Resort Development Association, it
has grown into a $9.2 billion industry. The idea was that a condo developer
could sell one unit to multiple people based on time. 

Buyers could own part of a luxury condo at a
popular vacation destination, much like shareholders could buy portions of a
public company. Rather than paying full-price and having to manage the
property, buyers could pay for a portion of the property, sharing the costs and
fees with other buyers. 

On the surface, timeshares can seem like the
best of both worlds: You get a vacation home to visit with family or friends
without the hassle of managing the property year-round. 

Like any purchase, there are pros and cons to
owning a timeshare. Thousands of timeshare owners are happy with their getaway
home-away-from-home, but others can feel like they get trapped into buying. 

Unfortunately, many of those targeted with
timeshare offers are unsuspecting seniors who get drawn into a scam. 

Timeshare
scams
 

One of the most common (and costly) timeshare
scams targets those who might be looking to resell their timeshare. According
to AARP, the Federal Trade Commission filed
almost 191 cases against timeshare resale companies in 2013 alone. 

While there are reputable timeshare companies
out there, not all are legitimate. The market is filled with scams that
manipulate buyers into payments they can’t afford with no way out,
luring potential buyers into a sales pitch presentation with the promise of a
free vacation, cash rebate or luxury prize, only for buyers to find out that those
gifts aren’t what they seem. 

How
resale scams work
 

Once the recession hit in 2007, the timeshare
market stalled. People didn’t have the money to spend on vacation homes, and
many who had timeshares and vacation homes looked to sell. 

With a surplus of those desperate to get rid
of their timeshare obligations and a shortage of buyers, timeshare resale scams
began flourishing. 

Today, thousands of timeshare owners looking to sell are
targeted each year by companies claiming they have a buyer lined up. They con
unsuspecting victims with the promise of an immediate sell and a high resale
value, asking for hundreds or even thousands of dollars in upfront “closing
costs” that will be refunded to them after the sale ends.  

For those desperate to get rid of their
timeshare, $1,000 in upfront costs for a $25,000 sale sounds like a dream come
true. Once a victim accepts the offer and gives
their credit card or bank information over the phone, the company and its fake
buyer disappear. 

These scams have become more sophisticated
over the years to combat protection measures that have been put into place by
credit card companies and law enforcement agencies. 

Some scammers will coach victims through a
phony “verification call” that tricks them into acknowledging that there is no
buyer. Other scammers will stall the fake sale for up to 120 days to ensure
victims will have a hard time filing a dispute with their bank.

Long-term
effects of timeshare resale scams
 

The short-term consequences of timeshare scams
are obvious: Victims lose hundreds or thousands of dollars with little hope of
getting their money back. Unfortunately, there are also some long-term
financial effects that might be caused by falling for one of these scams. 

Many people assume they’ll get the money they
put up for the “closing costs” refunded to them after the sale, meaning they
may be willing to pay money they can’t really afford to lose in the long run. 

For those who depend on the lost money for
retirement or other financial responsibilities, falling victim to a scam could
be detrimental. 

Timeshare scams also can open you up to be
victimized for other types of fraud or scams. 

Giving your credit card or bank information
over the phone puts all your financial information at risk. These fraudulent
companies are under no obligation to securely store your information once you
give it to them, making your financial security vulnerable for resale or data
leaks. 

Why
target seniors?
 

Seniors are one of the most heavily targeted
demographics for telemarketing fraud, including timeshare and timeshare resale
scams. But why do these scams target those over the age of 65 more heavily than
others?

1. Seniors
are more likely to have disposable income.
 

Whether from retirement savings or just a
lifetime of building up wealth, seniors are more likely to have the money
scammers are seeking. 

Seniors also are more likely to have an empty
nest, whereas middle-aged families typically have kids and other
financial priorities. 

2. Seniors are less likely to know how to
handle the fraud.
 

Many scammers depend on the assumption that
seniors are the least tech-savvy demographic. 

For a long time, seniors were the least likely
to know how to file a complaint online with their credit card company, check
their financial records online for fraud or do any online research before
buying into a company’s promises. 

This makes seniors a perfect target for
scammers. 

3. Seniors are more trusting.

Another stereotype that scammers depend on is
that seniors are less skeptical and more trusting. 

According to A Consumer Credit, “Because of
the technological hesitancy of seniors, and as a matter of integrity, many
Americans over the age of 70 are vulnerable to expert psychological and
high-pressure sales tactics used by the timeshare industry.”

This leads to more seniors trusting in a scam
that others may be skeptical toward.

See related: First-time fraud victims likely to be hit again

Ways
to spot a timeshare scam

Timeshare scams can often be spotted before
you’re victimized. Here are a few red flags to watch out for: 

Unprompted
initial contact

Very few legitimate companies will reach out
to potential customers without having first been contacted by you.

If a company you’ve never heard of
initiates contact by phone, fax, email or even direct mail, assume that it’s
suspicious activity.

Outlandish
promises

Many scammers will promise large rewards or
high sale prices if you agree to their offers (whether during the buying or
selling process). If something sounds like it’s too good to be true, it most
likely is.

Upfront
fees

If any company asks you to pay out money
upfront, run. This is one of the staples of a timeshare resale scam.

Any legitimate company that will help you sell
your property won’t ask for hundreds or thousands of dollars before the sale
goes through.

Emotional
tactics

No respectable sales company resorts to using
guilt or other emotional tactics to get you to agree to an offer.

If you’re feeling manipulated in any way,
don’t feel as if you have to give in or agree to what they’re asking.

Tips
for financial security

With so many scams and fraudulent companies
out there looking to capitalize on travelers’ vulnerabilities, it can be hard
to keep your finances safe. Here are a few tips to make sure you’re taking
every precaution when traveling as a senior.

Never
give personal or financial information over the phone

This applies to any and all personal
information: your account passwords, date of birth, Social Security number, bank
information and credit card information. Legitimate companies will never ask you
to give financial information over the phone.

Keep
a tab on your accounts

Most banks and credit card issuers have a way
to check your account activity online or through an online app. If you have a
smartphone, consider downloading these apps and checking your accounts regularly.

Use
your travel credit card

Charge all your travel expenses and any large expenses to a credit
card.

When you use a bank account, funds are
automatically withdrawn from your account. This makes it difficult to ever
recover money if you’re victim to a scam.

Credit cards have protections in place that
allow you to dispute a charge if you catch a fraudulent charge or scam within a
certain amount of time.

Use
trusted companies and resources

Whether you’re simply booking a vacation
online or trying to sell your timeshare, use companies you know you can
trust.

Most resort companies have resale programs,
and many travel accommodations have rewards programs for those who book
directly through their sites. This way, you can earn and use rewards to your
advantage while keeping your financial information safe.

Do
your research

When buying a timeshare or trying to get rid
of one, do your research.

Talk to other buyers or sellers. Do a search
online for the company you’re thinking about working with to make sure they are
a member of the Better Business Bureau.

The more you know going in, the less likely
you’ll fall prey to the tactics of scammers.

See related: Don’t be fooled into falling for these 8 scams




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