The federal government, in cooperation with state regulators, state attorneys general, law enforcement agencies and foreign partners has expanded its crackdown on timeshare resale scams, according to a press conference held by the Federal Trade Commission in Miami, Fla. on Thursday.
The FTC provided a list of 191 actions taken against timeshare resale scammers recently by it and its partners in crime prevention. U.S. attorneys have filed suit in 58 cases involving 168 individuals, resulting in a combined prison sentence of 218 years, Chuck Harwood, Acting Director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection said.
The number of consumer complaints about the scams tripled between 2010 and 2011 nationwide. The 2012 figure is double that of 2010, the decrease from 2011 likely due in part to aggressive enforcement, according to Harwood.
Though these scammers are hard to pin down because they use fake street addresses, phone numbers that roll over to other phone numbers, and other deceptive practices, when enough detailed complaints roll in, it's sometimes possible to pinpoint the perpetrators, Harwood said.
A woman, Tracy, who spoke at the conference and was victimized twice for no more than $800 each time, was wary when a third scammer called her in 2011. She didn't fall for the pitch, but forwarded information she had gleaned to the FTC. "In January they got a multimillion dollar judgment against this company," Tracy said.
Florida's attorney general, Pam Bondi, said that of the top four complaints to her office in 2012, there were more timeshare-related complaints that the other three categories combined. In 2012, the office received more than 12,000 timeshare resale complaints, though that is down 56% from 2011, Bondi said.
Companies Bondi's office has successfully prosecuted were ordered to pay a total of $8 million in restitution and $28 million in civil penalties.
Sixteen people face criminal charges in Florida for impersonating employees of the Florida Office of the Attorney General.
When asked where a consumer can look to find an honest timeshare resale business, the conference panel seemed at a loss. They were able to repeat what NOT to do: Don't pay money on a promise, don't be taken in by someone who calls you up out of the blue, and so on.
But check out the FTC's website for a nifty infographic on the anatomy of a timeshare resale scam and tips on what NOT to do when selling your timeshare.