ROCK HILL, S.C. — A Rock Hill couple was hours away from giving away thousands of dollars in what they described as an elaborate timeshare scam.
Ron and Lori Nickerson bought their timeshare in 2012 but after a few years, they realized it wasn't what they had hoped.
"I think it was 2015 we decided that we wanted to get out of this thing," Ron Nickerson recalled. "So we bought into another deal to get rid of it. And they listed it. That's where the $22,000 came; that's what the asking price was."
They never got a bite on the listing until an unsolicited but timely phone call arrived in early 2022. The caller was offering $22,500.
Nickerson thought, "Maybe they're buying it out or they're taking it over."
Nickerson said the buyer was from Mexico and would be required to pay duty fees in addition to the purchase price. The so-called broker told Nickerson there would only be an upfront fee of $4,400 for the taxes. Nickerson was told he would be reimbursed for it within 24 hours.
Tom Bartholomy from the Better Business Bureau said that was the red flag.
"Money is going the wrong way," Bartholomy explained. "Somebody's buying something of yours. You should be getting the money. Not the other way around."
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), along with the FBI, warned about advance fee schemes in 2020.
At the time, the agency claimed scammers were making unsolicited contact with owners of timeshare properties. These alleged scammers presented official-looking documents and well-designed websites.
"Anybody can create a website and it doesn't really cost that much to do it," Bartholomy warned.
Nevertheless, the documents started coming fast and furious into Nickerson's inbox. He signed most of them.
WCNC Charlotte is always asking "where's the money?" If you need help, reach out to WCNC Charlotte by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to spot red flags
But some of the correspondences received by Nickerson and his wife were sprinkled with faulty grammar and punctuation.
"The English was very poorly written," Lori Nickerson recalled. "It was very unprofessional. And so that was another red flag."
The couple stopped just short of authorizing the money transfer. Instead, Ron and Lori Nickerson reported the business to the Federal Trade Commission.
WCNC Charlotte's Jane Monreal called the alleged broker's businesses but was never able to speak to an official representative.
One of the companies that reached out to Nickerson claimed it was headquartered at an address on 33rd Street in New York City. A call to the owners of that building confirmed the company was not listed as a tenant.
Bartholomy said timeshare buyers should carefully review the cancellation procedures. He said some contracts include procedures for future sales.
Bartholomy advised those interested in selling their timeshare to contact the timeshare company directly.
Verifying an investor
The SEC has various sources to find out if an investment product or service is legitimate. Investor.gov is a website where information can be found to verify the background, registration status, and more.
You can also file a complaint with the North Carolina Attorney General's office.
Tips to avoid becoming the victim of a timeshare advance-fee scam
If you receive a phone call, an e-mail, mail or other communication regarding your timeshare, officials recommend you keep in mind the following tips and warnings:
- Be suspicious of any uninvited offers regarding your timeshare, particularly those that seem “too good to be true.”
- Contact your timeshare resort, developer, or manager, who may be aware of a new or ongoing scam and may have resources to help you determine whether a particular person or entity is legitimate.
- Be extremely cautious if anyone requests that you pay money up-front in order to obtain funds or property to which they claim you are entitled. Also, be skeptical of any request to wire money in connection with your timeshare.
- It is extremely difficult – and often impossible – to recover money wired abroad, and fraudsters with U.S. accounts can quickly transfer funds overseas.
- Be wary of high-pressure tactics, which are often indicative of a scam.
- Fraudsters sound convincing, are very responsive, send you authentic looking paperwork, and sometimes create websites that look legitimate. If you do not know the person with whom you are doing business, be extremely cautious and do extensive due diligence.
- If someone offers you investment products or services, such as offering to act as a broker to sell shares they claim you are entitled to, check whether the person or firm is registered with the SEC by using the search tool on Investor.gov.
- Remember that scammers can assume the identities of actual brokers. It is important to verify the identity of the person who contacts you by independently searching for the person’s or firm’s website and checking that the contact information listed there is consistent with the contact information the person provided you.
- Hire your own lawyer to review real estate transactions and contracts associated with your timeshare. Be wary of hiring lawyers recommended by third parties who make unsolicited offers, as they may not be impartial.
- Be careful if someone claims they have been provided with a “special permit” from the SEC – there is no such thing.
- Be aware that scammers may be located far away from where they pretend to operate. For example, they may use technology to make it appear that they are calling from a different location and use a fake address or a mail drop as their business address.
- Scammers count on your lack of knowledge, so take the time to educate yourself about any offer you receive.
- Trust your instincts: if a timeshare solicitor makes you uncomfortable or tells you something that does not sound right, do not continue communicating with them.
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