Twin Cities a “virtual” home for offshore fraudsters in recent months
BURNSVILLE —In the last several months, the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota (BBB) has identified four entities claiming Minneapolis and St. Paul addresses, all of which purport to be resellers of timeshare properties.
However, a closer review of these companies and the complaints filed against them revealed that they were operated remotely — likely from Mexico — and none of them were legitimate organizations.
“The timeshare reseller scam is a very devious and a very costly one,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “In some cases, people have lost tens of thousands of dollars to these fraudulent entities or others like them. And that money, in all likelihood, is gone forever.”
In almost every documented case of this fraud, customers were contacted by persons claiming to represent companies that had secured buyers for their timeshares. Consumers were then told they had to wire escrow funds to Mexico — or money to cover transfer fees, closing costs or taxes and liens — in order to complete the sales of their timeshares. Upon wiring funds as requested, customers were either informed unexpected costs had arisen and they would have to wire still more money, or else the individuals they were dealing with dropped out of contact upon receipt of the original funds.
The four shady companies which the BBB has brought — or helped bring — to light this last year are: Events, Etc., Event Consulting Services, Global Consulting & Real Estate Services and Renaissance Marketing of Property. All four entities proved to have no actual physical presence in Minnesota, and all have F ratings with the BBB.
Events, Etc. was an event-planning business that operated lawfully in Minnesota from 1992 to 2011. Sometime after that company closed, an offshore entity appropriated their company name and address, re-registering it with the state of Minnesota, and then created an authentic-looking website purporting to offer event planning services — which was the same false claim made by both Event Consulting Services and Global Consulting & Real Estate Services. These entities claim the same address in downtown Minneapolis. Although the phone line for Event Consulting Services is still active, the websites for both companies appear to be down.
Renaissance Marketing of Property, identified most recently as being one of these fraudulent entities, was the target of a recent cease and desist order filed by the Minnesota Department of Commerce due to a lack of proper licensing and employment of bait and switch tactics.
“Four entities of this nature claiming an address in our area over this period of time is somewhat unusual,” Badgerow said. “It’s most likely a sign the scammers are trying to strike while the iron is hot. The best way for people to guard against this scam is to be aware of its hallmarks.”
The BBB advises people looking to sell their timeshare properties to always:
Be wary. If you currently own a timeshare and are approached by a company offering to help you sell it, use caution.
Investigate. Don’t be dazzled by a fancy website or one that has photos of exotic locales. Use a business you can trust — make sure the timeshare reseller you use is a BBB Accredited Business or at the very least has a track record in the industry and a good rating with the BBB. You can check out a business’s BBB Business Review at bbb.org.
Watch out for upfront fees and requests to wire funds. Many complaints to the BBB regarding timeshare resellers involve situations where people were told they needed to wire “escrow funds,” or that they just had to pay taxes or closing costs and their timeshare would be sold. Never wire money to someone you don’t know.
Confirm licensing requirements. Verify where the company is located and in what states it does business. Ask if the company’s salespeople are licensed to sell real estate where your timeshare is located. If so, confirm that with the state licensing board.
Get the facts on the figures. Find out if the business charges a commission. Do they handle the entire closing and provide escrow services? Do they charge an up-front listing or advertising fee? What does it cover and is it refundable?
Don’t fall for the hard sell or an offer that sounds too good to be true. Don’t agree to anything over the phone but instead ask the salesperson to send you written materials; take the time to think it over and don’t allow yourself to be pressured.
Employ common sense. If a company is located in Minnesota, why are they asking you to wire money across borders?
Be realistic. In regard to timeshares, it’s generally a buyer’s — not a seller’s — market. Unscrupulous timeshare resellers may claim that your property is in demand and they can sell it immediately; unfortunately, these promises often prove to be false.