MILWAUKEE — Four Wisconsin residents were charged this week with running a scam that bilked timeshare owners out of $2 million in fraudulent fees.
The suspects ran companies that targeted owners of timeshares with offers to help them sell their properties for a refundable fee. But prosecutors say the companies did nothing to sell the properties and refused to refund their money, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported (http://bit.ly/11M3ZnK ).
The defendants ran four different timeshare-resale companies from 2007 to 2010. The companies were owned or run by Mark S. Parks, 39, of New London; his wife, Mindy L. Parks, 34, who lived in Denmark, Wis.; Ashley M. Conant, 28, of Bellevue; and her mother, Eileen M. Goltz, 51, who moved to Port Charlotte, Fla., a year ago, according to the criminal complaint.
They all face federal fraud charges. Messages left with their public defenders Saturday were not immediately returned.
Telemarketers employed at the defendants' companies would call timeshare owners and ask if they'd be interested in selling their timeshares. In some cases, according to the complaint, the caller would lie and claim to have found a buyer, or say a buyer was in their showroom, which didn't exist.
The telemarketers would ask for fees ranging from $200 to $2,500 in up-front costs, depending on how much the telemarketer could persuade the owner to pay, the complaint said.
In other cases, the telemarketer offered to sell the timeshare for a prepaid fee. The owner was promised a sale within weeks or months, and was told if the property didn't sell within a year the owner would receive a full refund, the complaint said.
To many, that was an offer too difficult to pass up.
Kathy Suchon of Plover said she and her husband were getting tired of paying hundreds of dollars in maintenance and other fees on their timeshare in Florida. So when Mark Parks called them offering to sell their timeshare or refund their prepaid fee, they jumped at the chance, she said. Suchon said he sent her a contract to verify the deal so the couple thought they were safe.
The couple paid about $700 in fees. When a year went by and the property remained unsold, Suchon called for a refund.
"I said, 'This is what (the contract) states. I want my money back,'" she recalled.
She said she was told they couldn't be given their money back. "You get a little ticked off. Or a lot ticked off," Suchon said.
Investigators reviewed hundreds of cases and didn't find a single instance where the defendants' companies sold a timeshare. The most the companies did was post the properties on an internal website, the complaint said.
The Better Business Bureau of Wisconsin began receiving complaints about the four businesses in 2007.
"You can't even get rid of your timeshare by giving it away these days," said Lisa Schiller, an investigator with the BBB. "People get so excited (by the offers). They think they're going to get rid of the timeshare they're paying annual fees on and not even using. I think that's why they fall for it: They want so badly to get rid of it."
Investigators have records of nearly 1,000 people who paid fees to the companies. Schiller said the Wisconsin BBB processed 107 complaints from more than 30 states and Canada.