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“These types of timeshare scams are most often international in scope, and therefore outside of the [Minnesota attorney general’s] jurisdiction. To the extent that criminal action would be brought against individuals, the investigation and prosecution would need to be handled by federal authorities,” according to Commerce spokeswoman Anne O’Connor.
If the companies fail to comply with the orders, “the Department can take the next step to file in [federal] court and set up contempt proceedings. If the Department can locate the individuals behind the companies, the violation could lead to a theft by swindle criminal referral.”
Staying one step ahead
There’s little incentive to keep using a name associated with a state enforcement action. The bogus timeshare businesses have no loyal customers who may lose track of the business if the name changes.
“Once the scammer has his company listed on the BBB or Internet searches as being a scam, he just names it something else and moves on,” according to Brian Rogers, owner of the online forum Timeshare Users Group.
In fact, two companies ordered by the state to cease, World Transfer Title and Concord International Title, had nearly identical websites. Minnesota, their supposed headquarters, is misspelled in several places on each. Each boasted the company had managed more than £3.3 billion in property assets, worked with more than 380 resorts and developers, and provided services to more than 810,000 consumers.
Some operators re-invent themselves as contrite associates of their former selves. “[They] will get the lists of previous victims, call [them] up and claim they are ex-employees of the company that scammed [them] and they founded a NEW company to help the victims get their money back because they felt so sick that they were ‘unintentionally’ ripping people off,” Rogers said. “They of course require another upfront fee to ‘get your money back’ and thus you are scammed again.”
Absent any real chance to deal with these companies administratively or judicially, the best solution may rest with consumers.
“Getting to owners and ensuring they never pay upfront fees will be the only way to stop it,” Rogers said. “There aren’t any legitimate businesses in the timeshare industry that charge an upfront fee.”
Jane Friedmann • 612-673-7852