More than 190 criminal and civil actions have been brought across the country over the past two years to combat the rising problem of timeshare fraud involving shady telemarketing operations, federal and state officials said.
Complaints about timeshare fraud targeting sellers tripled from 2010 to 2011, when more than 6,000 people called a hotline about the problem, The Federal Trade Commission said last week. Last year, there were 4,600 complaints, as the FTC and various law enforcement agencies ramped up efforts to stop the fraud, said Charles Harwood, acting director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection.
"Our message to timeshare owners is simple: Never pay for a promise, get everything in writing first, and pay only after your unit is sold," Harwood said.
Investigators have pursued fraud cases involving timeshare sellers in nearly every state in the country, but as a major vacation destination, Florida tops the list.
Typically the fraud starts with a cold phone call to a timeshare owner looking to sell. The caller says a buyer has been found -- often offering more money than the owner expects -- and all the owner has to do is send some upfront cash to get the deal rolling. In one case, those fees ranged from just under $2,000 to $10,000.
The timeshare owner never sees the money again.