Timeshare ownership can be a pleasant experience that allows people to conveniently travel every year. But because of greed, not every purchase plays out this way. Despite the industry being around for more than half a century, earning trillions of dollars in revenue along the way, the future is starting to look bleak. As timeshare companies do their best to hold onto fractional owners, many buyers are jumping ship. The problem is, some are drowning in debt due to scams that overpopulate the relief market. Just when property owners think they’ve gotten their head above water, another wave comes crashing down on their optimism.
Although lawmakers have implemented a number of regulations and law enforcement agencies are cracking down on consumer fraud more than ever before, scam artists continue to target the vulnerability of timeshare owners. No matter how many fraudulent operations are exposed, the momentum of misconduct in the timeshare industry remains in tact. While the internet provides criminals with an array of opportunity, telemarketing has been the preferred choice for defrauding fractional owners over the years.
Another Florida Scam That Claimed to Sell Timeshares.
Nearly 10 years ago, Mark Gardner and Tammie Lynn Cline got together in a Florida boiler room to develop a fraudulent resale operation that targeted disgruntled timeshare owners. They brought in a man by the name of Sheldon Lee Cohen to be their president of operations – and to more than likely fund portions of the concept. Universal Timeshare Sales Associates (UTSA) was launched quickly thereafter and a call center full of Orlando telemarketers were ready to execute the scam. In an attempt to cover their tracks, the duo claimed the headquarters of their timeshare resale company was in Beaverton, Oregon.
Their strategy was to make as many unsolicited calls as they could to timeshare owners throughout the United States. Once they were able to get a decision maker on the phone, they told them that they specialized in selling timeshares and that they had a buyer ready and willing to take the property off their hands. All UTSA needed from the owner was a few thousand dollars to carry out the transaction.
Since many timeshare owners had previously given up on getting rid of their timeshare, this was a huge sigh of relief. For those reluctant to believe UTSA could sell timeshares that easily, Gardner and Cline persuaded them with additional deceit. Members of their staff and other co-conspirators would pretend interested parties were present and already had the money in escrow. When that didn’t work, they falsely claimed to have additional buyers ready to move forward within the next 90 days. Interesting enough, a good number of people handed over between $1,600 and $2,200 in fees to proceed with the sale.
When UTSA’s promise to sell the timeshares fell through, hundreds of timeshare owners were left reeling for answers. Instead of dragging along the scam like other fraudulent operations do, Gardner and Cline decided to deny refund requests, cease all communication and dispute all credit card charge backs.
How the Florida Timeshare Scam Artists Were Caught
Over time, numerous complaints were filed and the scam got the attention of the FTC and Florida’s Attorney General. Both filed a federal civil action against the duo and their co-conspirators in May of 2013. 13 months later, the district court entered a permanent injunction against them regarding telemarketing misconduct. The case was also investigated by the FBI and Roger B. Handberg (Assistant U.S. Attorney) was in charge of prosecution. Cline and Gardner were indicted January of 2015 and sentenced in October of the same year.
When it was all said and done, Tammie Lynn Cline pled guilty to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and served 30 months in federal prison. Mark Gardner pled guilty to money laundering in addition mail and wire fraud. He was sentenced to 87 months in federal prison and both are required to pay back $1.2 million each in restitution. According to Lee Bentley, the (former) U.S. Attorney General, the resale scam ended up stealing about $1.6 million from their victims.