Three men from Tampa, in Florida, have pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and aggravated identity theft for their part in a huge telemarketing scam that cost 40 victims more than $1.5 million. Each face a maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison and will be sentenced over the coming weeks.
In accordance with their plea agreements, the three men have agreed to pay restitution to the scheme’s 40 victims. From 2016 to 2018, the three men conspired with each other to fraudulently obtain money from victims throughout the United States, who wanted to sell their timeshare burdens. The scheme involved cold calling victims and posing as real estate agents. They told victims they had buyers ready to purchase their timeshares and all they had to do was pay fees associated with the sales, such as transfer and legal fees, closing costs, courier services and title searches. Desperate timeshare owners were then instructed to pay these fees via wire transfers, which the three men then shared out amongst themselves.
According to the US attorneys office, the three men often repeatedly re-contacted their victims and fraudulently advised them that additional fees were required to complete the sales and they maliciously targeted vulnerable victims, convincing them to keep sending money for these bogus fees, until some ran out of money or became aware they were being scammed.
Incredibly, the scheme then evolved into something far more sinister. After the victims had either ran out of money or learnt of the fraud the three men conjured up a new way to scam these very same timeshare owners. They re-contacted their victims via email, this time posing as attorneys, and telling them they had been the victim of a timeshare scam. They then offered to ‘represent’ their victims and try to obtain settlements on their behalf. Once the three men had regained their trust, they then demanded they forward additional bogus fees for the cost of litigation and settlement expenses. Some of their victims paid these men hundreds of thousands of dollars for these litigation services and over the course of the entire scam the three men received more than $1.5 million from over 40 vulnerable timeshare owners.
What is Wire and Mail Fraud ?
Mail and wire fraud is any fraudulent plot to intentionally deprive another of property or honest services via mail or wire communication. This is considered a serious criminal offense in the US. Mail fraud charges are when an individual puts into place any form of scheme to defraud in order to obtain money or property by means of false or fraudulent pretences. This occurs when the individual attempts to distribute, supply or unlawfully use any counterfeit in their scheme and in attempting to do so, places the same in any post office or authorized depository for the mail to deliver. This type of offence carries a fine or the possibility of imprisonment for up to 20 years, or both. Wire fraud charges occur when an individual carries out financial fraud using telecommunications or information technology to do so. The sentence for this type of offence is the same as mail fraud with a fine, or the possibility of imprisonment for up to 20 years, or both.
Protect Yourself From Timeshare Fraud
Check the details of the company contacting you, such as the website, address and phone number. You can check to see if a company is legitimate on the governments Companies House Register and by looking for online reviews.
Be wary of cold callers. A Cold Call is an unsolicited telephone call from a business seeking to attract new customers. Cold Calling is not illegal, however there are restrictions on how and when a marketing cold-call should be made. The new GDPR regulations along with the ICO’s Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations tighten up these restrictions, and as from 25 May 2018, any organisation involved in cold calling will have to abide by strict guidelines or face hefty fines. The only instance where you can be lawfully cold-called is if you have given consent before being contacted. If you receive a cold call from a timeshare exit company, they may have obtained your details illegally.
Ask how they have obtained your information. If you have been a victim in the past, any report of fraud is protected by law and can’t be shared with anyone else outside of law enforcement agencies.
Challenge any calls, letters or emails from people you don’t know or companies you’ve never contacted and if you’re asked to pay for a service, or give your bank details, end the call and report them either to Action Fraud or the ICO.
People who enter into Timeshare agreements often find it difficult to keep up with the mounting maintenance fees and simply cannot afford it any longer. They may also find that the Timeshare no longer suits their needs and simply want to end the contract. There are too many individuals who are willing to take advantage of Timeshare owners and offer fake products, along with Timeshare exit schemes. Before agreeing to any Timeshare termination or exit procedure with an individual or company, seek independent advice and fully research any company you are thinking of working with.
It is also important to remember that purchasing a Timeshare should NEVER be viewed as a financial investment. Timeshare is an investment in lifestyle, in future holidays and family time together. There is almost no resale value to a Timeshare.
The mis-selling of holiday products is, unfortunately, common practice within the holiday industry and these type of crimes often go unreported by the most vulnerable in our society and criminal convictions are few and far between.
If you have purchased a Lifestyle / Concierge Service, a Timeshare or a ‘Holiday Points’ based product from a resort or company and feel unhappy with the service, or feel you have been mis-sold this product, please get in touch with us to discuss how we may be able to help you with a possible Money Back Claim.