Scammers love to prey on consumers who are at their most vulnerable — during difficult economic times — and the timeshare business isn’t immune from their damage, according to an industry leader who is warning would-be timeshare sellers to tread cautiously.
Indeed, attorneys general in Arkansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Oklahoma recently have issued warnings about dubious timeshare-resale companies — particularly about reseller companies charging upfront fees that might run into the thousands of dollars, according to Howard Nusbaum, chief executive of the American Resort Development Association (ARDA), a trade group.
"This economy brings out the best and worst in people," said Nusbaum, who warns that timeshare owners who promise huge profits at resale aren’t to be trusted.
Nusbaum estimates there are more than 5 million timeshare owners, representing properties at about 1,650 resorts in the United States.
Five things to keep in mind in order not to run afoul of resale hucksters, according to ARDA:
1. Many scammers operate by cold-calling or writing to timeshare owners who may not even have tried to sell their units, Nusbaum said.
"You might get a phone call from somebody saying, ‘I have a buyer who wants to give you $20,000 for your timeshare,’ " Nusbaum said. "And you say, ‘Times are rough — sure, I’ll take it.’
"And then you give him your credit card (to pay upfront ‘fees’), and guess what — the buyer goes away," he said.
That request for a credit card is a red flag, Nusbaum said.
2. There are numerous unrisky ways to get the word out that you’re interested in selling your timeshare, Nusbaum said. …CONTINUED
He recommends first approaching the developer/operator of the resort where the timeshare is located, or its homeowners association. Those entities might have interested buyers, he said.
Plus, a homeowner can choose any number of print and online advertising vehicles, with costs ranging from free to hundreds of dollars. Just have a clear idea of what’s included in their services and how long the advertising will run, Nusbaum said.
Some legitimate timeshare resellers’ services include only advertising; they usually won’t or can’t help with sales contracts or negotiating with buyers.
3. There are legitimate resellers that employ licensed real estate agents, he said. In some states, they’re permitted to charge upfront fees, or they may charge a commission that’s a percentage of the sales price. Just as when selling a home, there also may be additional title and closing costs. The key is doing research to make sure they’re legitimately licensed, Nusbaum said.
He recommends checking on the licenses of individuals at the Association of Real Estate License Law Officials, which maintains a searchable database of licensees in 42 states at www.arello.com.
4. Scammers recently have been advertising falsely to would-be clients that they’re affiliated with American Resort Development Association, Nusbaum said. The organization doesn’t contract with, authorize or endorse any company’s resale activities, he said.
In one recent scheme, a scammer told a timeshare owner he was acting as ARDA’s agent to disburse refunds (collected by the Florida attorney general) for consumers who had been victims of fraudulent resale practices and that the consumer was entitled to the proceeds, but would have to pay a $2,000 fee to process this claim.
5. Before contracting for any help with a timeshare sale, shop around to compare costs and services. And verify identities. In addition to the aforementioned arello.com, some sources include:
- www.vacationbetter.org and www.arda.org/resales, both sites maintained by ARDA.
- The Better Business Bureau, which can provide company complaint histories and ratings.
- State attorneys general; state-by-state contact information can be found at the National Association of Attorneys General.
Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago.
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