Feds shut down timeshare reselling scam that took millions

Florida streetA telemarketing ring that allegedly scammed millions from consumers nationwide looking to sell their timeshares was shut down by the Federal Trade Commission, the agency announced today.There were thousands of victims, the FTC told Consumer Ally.

The FTC won a temporary restraining order halting Timeshare Mega Media and Marketing Group Inc., two related companies and six people in connection with an ongoing investigation. A complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Fort Lauderdale claims they ran a telemarketing boiler room -- a call center where telemarketers use high-pressure sales tactics -- in Fort Lauderdale.
They allegedly told timeshare owners looking to sell their units that a buyer was ready to seal a deal, but a fee -- usually $1,996 -- for sale-related costs including real estate agent, closing, title search and document fees was needed first.

A check of the phone numbers for Timeshare Mega Media listed on its website shows they are currently not in service. A short note on the site's contact page reads: "At this time we are no longer taking new customers, so that we can better serve our existing customers."

New Jersey natives Henry and Eugenia Watson retired to northern Florida and decided to sell their timeshare as a way to trim their expenses. So the couple put their posh Summit Bay resort timeshare near Walt Disney World up for sale last year. They had no takers until Timeshare Mega Media called in March saying it had a buyer, but first the couple needed to pay near the nearly $2,000 fee supposedly for a title search before the sale could go through.

"They were very professional, very business-like ... they showed us they had a buyer," Henry Watson told Consumer Ally. The company told the couple it had a buyer ready to pay $25,000 for the timeshare, but that a title search was needed first and the fee would be reimbursed by the buyer at closing. When the upfront fee was lowered to $999, the couple jumped on the offer. Watson first tried to pay by check, but was told a check wouldn't be accepted. He then paid the fee with a debit card.

Watson said once he sent the money, he couldn't reach anyone at the company to check on the sale. "We never communicated with them again," he said. "They wouldn't talk to me when I called."

The Watsons still own the timeshare and now get calls from debt collection companies looking to cash in and help them recoup the money lost in the deal -- for a portion of the money.

In its complaint, the FTC alleges that the upfront fee could range up to 10% of the timeshare's price, if the timeshare was an expensive unit. Consumers who paid the fee were told to expect a contract. Timeshare Mega Media did send a contract to consumers -- for marketing and advertising services, not a sales contract. The FTC said consumers who raised questions or wanted a refund were allegedly given a run-around.

The FTC's complaint was filed against Timeshare Mega Media, also doing business as Timeshare Market Pro Inc.; Timeshare Market Pro Inc.; Tapia Consulting Inc.; Joseph Crapella, also known as Joseph John Philbin; Pasquale Pappalardo; Lisa Tumminia Pappalardo; Pasqualino Agovino; Louis Tobias Duany; and Patricia A. Walker. The FTC is also seeking restitution for consumers in the case.

According to the FTC, the number of fake timeshare resale complaints has more than tripled over the past three years, as more consumers try to sell their timeshares.

"When cash-strapped consumers are trying to sell their property, the last thing they need is to lose thousands of dollars to scam artists who promise a quick sale, but then provide no services at all," David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement.

In this case, the defendants allegedly defrauded consumers nationwide out of millions of dollars before being shuttered by the court. The South Florida Better Business Bureau, FTC and the Florida attorney general's office have received hundreds of complaints from consumers. The BBB gave Timeshare Mega Media an F rating, its lowest.

States across the country have been warning consumers against timeshare reseller scams. In Florida -- the state with the most timeshares in the country -- the attorney general's office has gotten more than 8,500 complaints since January. Scam artists also look to hook consumers with promises of selling timeshare points -- similar to frequent flyer miles -- or securing quick rentals for that unused week.
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