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For Immediate Release:
SAINT PAUL, MN – The Minnesota Department of Commerce has uncovered eleven unlicensed sham companies targeting timeshare owners falsely claiming to be able to sell or rent their properties and scamming them into paying thousands of dollars in transaction costs that never result in a sale or rental of their properties. In every case, the company used a fake street address on their website and in the materials they provided to timeshare owners. The addresses either did not exist or were for buildings in which the sham company was not a tenant. In one instance, a company used fake Minnesota business registration and license documents to convince a timeshare owner of its legitimacy. The Commerce Department ordered the eleven sham companies to immediately halt their alleged illegal activity in Minnesota.
The investigation comes on the heels of a Minnesota Department of Commerce enforcement action in late 2012 against Renaissance Marketing for running an alleged “bait and switch” timeshare scheme that targeted consumers across the country. The initial investigation triggered further complaints about companies offering to sell or rent Minnesotans’ timeshares often using fake Minnesota addresses.
“The Department took swift and decisive action against these alleged schemes duping timeshares owners,” said Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman. “These sham companies are preying on people desperate to sell their timeshares with the intent to scam and defraud them out of thousands of dollars.”
The sham companies went by the names of: Global Properties Specialists, Integrated Escrow Services, Platinum Resort Services, ABS Consulting Company, World Transfer Title, Premium Properties Management, Net Management Group, Concord International Title, Continental Property Solutions, Twin Cities Property Advisors, and World Event Management.
Concord International Title, Platinum Resort Services, ABS Consulting Services, and World Transfer Title all used fake Minnesota addresses, while Net Management Group claimed to be based in Michigan and World Event Management claimed to be based in Colorado. Global Properties Specialists claimed an Arizona address but maintained it was affiliated with and used Integrated Escrow Services, which it represented had a Minnesota address. The Department’s repeated efforts to contact and obtain information from these companies by email, U.S. mail, and telephone calls went unanswered.
The Department’s investigation found that the scams all followed a similar pattern like the one used by Global Properties Specialists. Based on statements made by the scammed timeshare owner, Global Properties Specialists cold called the Michigan timeshare owner about selling their Costa Rica timeshare property and ultimately led the timeshare owner to believe that it had a buyer for the property. The timeshare owner reported that Global Properties Specialists further stated it would guarantee the sale of the owner’s interest in the property. Based on those representations, the timeshare owner agreed to wire cash in the amount of $6,550, which Global Properties Specialists claimed was a necessary transaction fee for service. After wiring the initial payment, Global Properties Services advised the timeshare owner that an additional payment of $11,790 was necessary to pay a 15% sales tax plus a 3% foreign investment tax. After they had wired the second payment, the timeshare owner was again contacted by Global Properties Specialists for yet another $4,585 for a payment of a 7% commission. After making the third payment, the timeshare owner received an email from Global Properties Specialists stating that an additional payment of $4,422 was necessary for a bank surcharge. The timeshare owner declined to make the final payment, after which Global Properties Specialists stopped answering the timeshare owner’s telephone calls and emails.
The Department’s investigation also found that the title company, Integrated Escrow Services, with which Global Properties Specialists represented it work with to complete the sale, used a fake Minnesota address and had supplied an Oregon resident with a fake Minnesota real estate and driver’s license, and a fake Minnesota business tax registration to bolster its credibility.
The Department worked with the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota in the investigation of these companies.
“Minnesotans need to exercise due diligence when selling their timeshares,” said Commissioner Rothman. “These scams are becoming increasingly prevalent and sophisticated, and Minnesotans should check with the Department of Commerce to confirm the licenses of purported timeshare resellers. Further, those who are considering the initial purchase of timeshares need to educate themselves on the potential benefits and disadvantages of timeshare ownership.”
The Commerce Department offers the following advice on selling and purchasing timeshares.
Timeshare Resale Scams
Timeshare reseller scams have multiplied over recent years and companies or individuals posing as resellers have scammed individuals out of thousands of dollars through false promises and upfront fees.
- Always check with the Minnesota Department of Commerce to confirm the licensing claims of any reseller. Anyone selling timeshares in Minnesota must have a Minnesota real estate license.
- Resellers identify timeshare owners through public databases and real estate records. An agent will cold call or mail materials to consumers offering resale terms that are often too good to be true. Be very cautious of high pressure sales tactics and offers requiring you to pay upfront fees. These tactics are a red flag the offer could be a scam.
- A search of the caller’s telephone number, address or reseller contact information on an internet search engine will quickly expose a fraudulent company. Do this before signing a contract or sending any money.
- Resale values are generally a fraction of the original purchase price. Anyone offering a purchase price that sounds too good to be true is too good to be true.
Purchasing a Timeshare:
- Compare the cost of purchasing and owning a timeshare with the cost of staying at a hotel room in the resort area you are considering. Be aware that timeshares carry additional fees, such as monthly maintenance, taxes, brokerage fees and finance charges.
- Timeshares located outside the country do not carry the same consumer protections that otherwise might be available domestically.
- Know your cancellation rights before you sign any contracts. If a right of rescission is not among the contract terms, ask that it be included in the final contract.
- Use an escrow account controlled by a licensed third party if purchasing undeveloped property. If it is developed, visit and inspect it carefully prior to signing a contract.
- Always consult with a real estate attorney prior to signing a contract.
- Timeshares offered or sold to people in Minnesota must be registered with the Minnesota Department of Commerce. Call 651-296-6332 or 651-296-4973 to find out if the project is registered.
The Federal Trade Commission provides a wealth of information for individuals to consult prior to making a timeshare purchase.
The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota has additional resources for timeshare investors. Check their website for more information.
For complaints regarding timeshare sales, contact the Securities Registration and Enforcement Section send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visitSecurities Registration and Enforcement Section of the website.
Don’t Be Tricked by Timeshare Resale Scams
In today’s struggling economy, many consumers are financially squeezed and looking for help. Some consumers may be looking at selling that timeshare that they no longer can afford to visit or to pay the high mortgage, taxes or maintenance fees associated with owning the timeshare. Scammers are out there waiting to take advantage of those consumers who desperately want to sell their timeshares.
Timeshare Schemes. Some fraudulent operators target would-be sellers of timeshares with promises that they have a buyer ready to purchase your timeshare or assurances they can sell it. The timeshare scammer will require that you pay up front fees for services, closing costs or other fees and then disappear. The Attorney General’s Office warns Minnesotans to be on guard against such “timeshare resale” scams. Here’s how they work: You receive a phone call, e‑mail, or go to a website. The company represents that it can sell your timeshare and may promise it already has someone who wants to purchase your timeshare. However, the company also requires that you pay some sort of fee up front (usually via a wire transfer) of hundreds or even thousands of dollars to pay for closing costs, services, taxes, timeshare maintenance fees or other fees. Unfortunately, once you send the money, you never see the money again, can’t contact the company and there is never a sale.
Tips to Avoid Timeshare Advance Fee Scams
1. Be wary of up front fees. Legitimate fees are typically paid after the sale is done or deducted from the sale price. Beware when a company asks you to pay up‑front charges or fees.
2. If it sounds too good to be true–it probably is. Be extremely cautious when someone is promising you a quick sale of your timeshare property. Timeshare resale scammers often
promise they have a buyer who is willing to pay a great price in order to get you to send money. Don’t be tricked by empty promises. No one can promise a quick sale.
3. Don’t wire money in connection with offers to sell your timeshare. Many timeshare resale scams ask consumers to wire money immediately for fees or other services. Remember, once your money is wired, it is very difficult for law enforcement officials to help you recover the funds and the company usually disappears.
4. Don’t agree to anything until you research the company. Ignore the high pressure sales over the phone and refuse to agree to anything before you research the company. Check with the state government in which the company is operating to ensure that the company is registered as a business in that state and that the company and its salespeople are actually licensed to practice real estate in the state in which they claim to operate. Do internet research to determine if the company has any complaints against it. Contact the State Attorney General (www.naag.org), and local consumer protection agencies (www.consumeraction.gov) in the state where the reseller is located. Check with the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org) to see the company’s rating and how it has responded to complaints filed against it.
5. Don’t be tricked by fancy sounding addresses or corporate titles. Scammers often use a P.O. Box or a legitimate sounding street address to give themselves credibility. They also sometimes assume the name of a legitimate company or another company’s legitimate address. Check out who you are dealing with. Oftentimes there is no actual street address for the location they list or the company at the address has nothing to do with the company contacting you. Don’t be fooled just because they have a nice sounding address or a fancy website.
6. Check with your resort. Make sure you ask your resort for any restriction, fees or other limitations associated with the sale of your timeshare. See if the resort has a program to resell your timeshare or has ever worked with the reseller that is offering you its services. You may also obtain more information from the American Resort Development Association (www.arda.org) regarding how to sell a timeshare. The ARDA represents vacation ownership and resort development industries in the U.S. and overseas.
7. Demand everything in writing. Ask for all the promises and agreements you need to sign in writing. Make sure that everything is in the agreement including services that will be provided, costs you must pay and when you must pay them, whether you can rent or sell the timeshare on your own while you are working with the resale company, who is responsible for completing the sale documents and finalizing the sale and how long the contract will continue. Read the documents very carefully before you sign to make sure the contract is what you want. Consider bringing the documents to an attorney for review before you enter into them.
Where should I complain? If you are a victim of a timeshare resale scam, file a complaint with these government agencies:
Office of Minnesota Attorney General
1400 Bremer Tower
445 Minnesota Street
St. Paul, MN 55101
TTY: (651) 297-7206
Minnesota Department of Commerce
Market Assurance Division
85 East Seventh Place, Suite 500
St. Paul, MN 55101
Federal Bureau of Investigation
111 Washington Avenue South, Suite 1100
Minneapolis, MN 55401-2176
Federal Trade Commission
Consumer Response Center
600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20580
Toll free: 1-877-382-4357