New crop of timeshare scams target sellers looking for cash

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Getting rid of a seldom-used timeshare might sound like a way to get cash, but attorneys general in two states warn not to get ripped off by the latest scams.

A timeshare scheme that has rooked dozens of consumers since January prompted a consumer warning from Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan (pictured). Here's how it works: Con artists call the owners and claim to have a buyer for the timeshare and present fake documents to appear legitimate. If the seller takes the bait, the scammer asks for a refundable security deposit or fee to ensure the sale goes through, and instructs them to wire money to an out-of-state bank account.

Once the money is wired, the consumer has become the victim of a scam. By the time the timeshare owners realize they've been defrauded, the con artists have closed the bank account, disconnected the phones and disappeared. Madigan's office said consumers have reported sending as much as $5,000 into oblivion. In other versions, unsolicited renters and consumers are asked to pay by credit card instead of wiring money.

Sound familiar? It should -- Oregon consumers have also fallen prey to similar scams, and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission recently issued an alert about shady timeshare resellers.

In Florida, Attorney General Bill McCollum said his office fielded more than 8,500 complaints since January about timeshare resellers and that he has ongoing investigations into 49 companies and nine lawsuits involving resale companies. Some even used the attorney general's office in their sales pitches to make their schemes seem legitimate.

"The increasing level of fraud in the timeshare resale industry is alarming," McCollum said in a statement announcing a series of enforcement actions. "Combating this growing problem will require a multi-pronged approach, involving a continuous collaborative enforcement effort among the state agencies and more consumer education."

Florida -- which has the highest number of timeshares in the country -- also has a consumer education website about resale fraud. The site keeps tabs on cases and the latest scams for consumers who live out of state.
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