Timeshare Scams: How They Work and How to Avoid Them

Last updated: November 16, 2016 - 2:09pm EST

As buying or renting timeshares on the secondary market (from individual owners) becomes an easier and more popular alternative to staying at hotels during vacations, and as more timeshare owners are seeking to sell their timeshare intervals, there are those who would take unfair advantage of this trend.  In this article, we'll address the issue of timeshare scams and timeshare resale scams, including how they are often performed and how to avoid or counter them.

What are timeshare scams?

The majority of timeshare resorts and developers -- as well as many timeshare resale companies -- are legitimate companies seeing to serve a market of travel enthusiasts. However, there are “bad apples” out there who take advantage of the fact that many timeshare owners, in particular, have a desperate need to sell their timeshares. In many cases, owners who need to sell experience unexpected financial challenges or changes in personal circumstances.

With more than 8 million timeshare owners worldwide, it’s entirely likely that someone you know has been a victim of a timeshare scam. The important thing when renting, buying, or selling a timeshare is to do your research and verify the reputation of the company or individual that you are dealing with.  Our goal with this lesson is to make you aware of the most common types of timeshare scams, as well as several steps that you can take to steer clear of fraudulent timeshare activity.

Common types and techniques of timeshare scams

  • Don't call us -- A major red flag that a supposed timeshare resale company is running a scam is that they refuse to do business with you in person or over the phone.  Instead, they insist on dealing with you solely through emails or text messages; it is much easier for them to mislead you through these forms of communication.

  • Buyer waiting -- A timeshare scam company may contact you and inform you that someone has contacted them, expressing interest in buying or renting your timeshare.  However, they will also tell you that you need to pay a fee or make a down payment to cover the closing costs of the deal.  If you send them this money, they will likely disappear and never contact you again.

  • Cold calling -- Someone claiming to represent a timeshare resale company contacts you and offers to help you sell your timeshare, without you having contacted them previously.  This is a major red flag that the person is running a scam.

  • Untraceable payment forms -- A timeshare scam company requests that you pay for the purchase, rental, or advertisement of a timeshare by way of money order, wire transfer, or money pack.  Since these forms of payment are difficult to trace, fraudsters can simply make off with your money knowing that it will be almost impossible to track them down and get your money back.

  • Verbal rather than written guarantees – While many legitimate companies might offer some form of a written money-back guarantee for services provided to you, scam companies will deliberately exclude these guarantees from a written contract. If you are working with any company and a guarantee of any kind has been provided to you verbally, make sure to double-check that the same guarantee is included in the contract you sign.

  • Fraud follow-up -- A timeshare scam company that successfully defrauds you may attempt to do so again.  After laying low for a few months or so, they may contact you again, claiming to be a fraud protection company.  They will offer to recover the money you lost in the first scam, if you pay them a small fee.  If you pay them, they will disappear again.

Tips for dealing with potential timeshare scams

  • How do they know about my timeshare? -- If you haven't advertised your timeshare for sale or rent anywhere, or haven’t actively reached out to companies online (by filling out forms, for instance), chances are that someone who asks about buying or renting your timeshare found out about it through illegitimate means.  Often, this can also mean that they plan to commit fraud, so do not respond to these types of inquiries.

  • Call or confront -- The most reliable way to know if a timeshare owner or resale company genuinely wants to do business with you is by calling them on the phone, or by meeting with them in person.  Emails and text messages are easy to mislead people over; if the other party insists on using these forms of communication with you, it's a red flag that they're a scammer, and you should walk away immediately.

  • Verify a caller's identity -- Sometimes, you may get a call from someone claiming to be from a legitimate timeshare resale company (such as SellMyTimeshareNow), and you aren't sure whether or not they are who they say they are.  If so, hang up and call the company that the person claims to represent at their main phone number.  Then, ask whether or not the person whom you spoke to is an official representative of that company.  It's a simple step that can save you from being taken advantage of.

  • Know whom you've been in contact with -- Legitimate timeshare resale companies will not contact you unless you contact them by phone, email, or online form first.  Therefore, keep a list of the timeshare resale companies that you have initiated contact with, along with their primary phone numbers.  That way, you will know who is following up with you and who is simply cold calling (and therefore probably running a scam).

  • Insist on a traceable form of payment -- You should always request the ability to do business with a timeshare resale company through a form of payment that can trace your transaction.  This could be a major credit card, or a payment processing service such as PayPal.  If a company refuses to accept payment in one of these forms, they are likely running a scam, and you should immediately walk away.

  • Be a bit skeptical -- Keep in mind the old saying: "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."  If a timeshare's description and photos look too nice for the price that it's being offered for, see if you can find the timeshare being advertised anywhere else, and make sure that the information matches up.  You may also want to compare the timeshare's price with the prices of similar timeshares in the area, or even contact the timeshare's owner/manager (preferably in person or by phone) and have them confirm the details of the advertisement.  Finally, be wary of companies that offer a money-back guarantee on helping you get your timeshare sold by a certain date.  It is, in fact, almost impossible to predict when a timeshare will be sold by.

  • Get it in writing -- If a timeshare resale company offers you a money-back guarantee on their services, make sure that this is explicitly spelled out in the written contract that they form with you (or ask them for a written agreement to this guarantee).  In addition, make sure that you spell out explicitly in your advertisements and contracts whether or not you are willing to cover the closing costs of selling your timeshare.

  • Read the fine print -- If it seems like you're getting a great discount on a timeshare rental or purchase, take the time to read the terms and conditions.  Doing so can help you avoid hidden fees or charges, which can ratchet the price of the timeshare right back up.  Also, if a timeshare resale company offers you a money-back guarantee on their services, make sure to read its terms and conditions to know what it does and does not apply to.

  • If all else fails -- If you think that a supposed timeshare resale company has scammed you, there are two things that you can do.  One is to report them to the authorities, notably your local Attorney General.  The other is to file a lawsuit against them.  In either case, be sure to have evidence that you can use to support your case, such as receipts, contracts, and written agreements.

 

That’s our primer on how to avoid timeshare scams and timeshare resale scams! When you are doing business with any timeshare sale or timeshare resale company, remember to follow these guidelines, stay vigilant, and make smart choices!

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