Timeshare ownership can be a difficult road to navigate. Once you’ve become immersed in the purchase, misconduct typically appears from all directions. It can be quite overwhelming, especially if you’re unaware of the actual intentions behind a majority of “can’t miss” offers. Over the years, we’ve spent a lot of time educating timeshare owners (or those considering the purchase) on the possibilities of resort life. No matter how many hypothetical situations we express, we’ve found that actual stories resonate best. While most people don’t want to believe they’re being duped, listening to someone else’s bad experience tends to heighten awareness.
While it can be difficult for the average consumer to point out crafty misconduct, it’s important that they understand what other timeshare owners have gone through. The fact of the matter is, not everyone has had a bad timeshare experience. At the same time, many owners are left reeling when the purchase doesn’t work out. Dissatisfaction can easily lead to further mistakes that put them in a deeper hole financially. Some decisions can be life changing and even psychologically draining. In order to help you understand how, let’s take a look at Darren Kittleson’s story.
How The Experienced Realtor Was Scammed
When it comes to timeshare scams, even people that know real estate can be easily taken advantage of. This was proven when a savvy realtor was led to believe he could make money on his timeshare property. After being robbed of more than $24,000 for trying to sell his Garza Blanca Resort property in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Darren is now speaking up about his experience. He still can’t believe he didn’t see the scam for what it was. Despite 30+ years in realty, he was fooled during a real estate transaction. Even though he repeatedly did his due diligence throughout the scam, he wasn’t able to uncover anything that worried him. If you take anything from this article, we hope it’s how good the modern day pickpockets are.
While losing that much money was tough, he views it as a learning experience. Now that he has closure, his goal is to help other timeshare owners avoid similar losses while spreading awareness on the deceptive practices of predatory resellers. In an interview with AZ Central, he touched on how he thought everything was 100% real by saying, “They were so sophisticated in how they did it.” No matter how many times he rekindles the experience, he can’t get over how “stupid” the whole thing makes him feel.
Sadly, many consumers are led to believe in timeshare solutions that don’t exist. The complexity of some of today’s scams are disturbing. The worst part is that relief-seeking timeshare owners are eagerly trying to get out of timeshare contracts when they’re bamboozled. Instead of finding resolve, they increase their loss. In Darren’s interaction with the phony reseller, everything seemed to add up perfectly. No matter his level of skepticism, the salesperson was always able to (shrewdly) reassure him that everything was going to work out in his favor. What’s sad is, he’s not alone. Fraudulent cases like this one tend to have a detailed plan throughout.
The Initial Phone Call and Supporting Misconduct
When Kittleson was first contacted by the scammers, they claimed to represent Westwood Realty in Phoenix, Arizona. They knew everything about his upcoming reservations and offered to buy the dates he booked. When he researched the company, the credibility of the Arizona business and brokerage seemed legit. At first glance, nothing stood out to him. Even their licensing was up to date. The manipulation that went into this first impression was crucial for the scam to work.
What Kittleson didn’t consider was the simple fact that the caller did not actually represent Westwood Realty. It’s hard for most people to understand how easy it is to create a fake online business presence. Moreover, most law-abiding citizens can’t even begin to think like a criminal. No matter the level of deception, the average consumer is already at a disadvantage. What “they don’t know” is normally used against them. Since the scammers knew about Darren’s travel plans, it was easy for him to assume a con wasn’t in place. His ability to easily find company information and reviews only added to his confidence. A fraudulent company wouldn’t post their information online, would they?
Scammers Know How to Eliminate Disbelief.
Despite the persuasiveness of the phony broker’s business presentation, it wasn’t the only thing that gave Darren (and other timeshare owners) peace of mind. They even went as far as providing timeshare owners with bank statements that included real company letterheads and contact information. It’s almost as if they mastered the mistakes of other scams. Even phone numbers included area codes that validated the company’s level of congruence.
Once he was able to confirm that Westwood had a local brick and mortar location and zero complaints dating back to the 80’s, Darren was hooked – for a lot of money. According to Kittleson, he thought he was doing everything he needed to “in order to verify, verify, verify,” He even went as far as setting up a Google news alert for Westwood Realty in case something went sideways.
The internet has been a huge boon to unethical companies preying on timeshare owners. What many people don’t realize is, the lifespan of these fraudsters doesn’t have to last long. Once enough money is collected, they tear everything down and wait for the dust to settle before rebuilding the scam under a different brand name. It’s a scary thing to ponder. In Kittleson’s case, the scammer didn’t even go this far. They were simply using the credibility of an actual business to manipulate the sale. Westwood was nothing more than a bystander. In the end, there was nothing to tear down.
If an Offer Seems too Good to be True, Don’t Take it.
Once the scammers established a level of trust with Kittleson and other targets, they made an aggressive proposal that was basically irrefusable. What many owners don’t realize, is the resale market for timeshares is basically non-existent. It’s hard to understand this until you experience it for yourself. While some resorts will tell you that you can always resell or rent your property (if it doesn’t work out), it doesn’t mean it’s true. Diamond Resorts actually got in a heap of trouble for selling prospects on this during presentations. Far too many fractional owners learn this reality the hard way. An unexpected, amazing resale opportunity should be the first sign that you’re involved in a scam.
Instead of continuing to shop for a reseller, Darren was absolutely thrilled with the price he was given. It was nearly 60-70% higher than what he actually paid for the property. Since the beachfront hotel in Puerto Vallarta had grown in popularity, he didn’t even think twice about the offer. “It didn’t seem far off,” he said. Not only was he talking to people whom he thought represented Westwood, he also believed in the best deal he’d received up to this point. Since he was called about his bookings, nothing really drew a red flag.
How the Scammers Continued Leading Him On..
As the complexity of scams continues to be underestimated by Americans, Darren’s experience helps us highlight how deep the deception can go. When it comes to scams that rob people of tens of thousands of dollars, a simple bait and switch wasn’t going to be enough to pull it off. Once Kittleson signed a letter of intent with what he thought to be a local broker, he received a call from an escrow company in Colorado Springs, Colorado. At this point, he was informed that a Mexican bank would be working with them to deposit his funds from the timeshare sale.
The logistics of these transactions caused some doubt to surface for the realtor – but after researching both companies, he came away relieved again. What he didn’t know was the scammers were using the same tactic they used with Westwood to proceed with the transaction. Confirmations and communication also seemed legitimate and Darren was eager to put timeshare ownership behind him.
Additional Documentation Provided Peace of Mind
“All of a sudden, I get an email with a bank statement that looks like any bank statement here in the U.S. showing the funds have been deposited,” he said. Even when he called the phone number on the statement to double check, an actual person answered in Spanish, giving him the company name and their title. From his perspective, he was so close to receiving closure.
Although the anticipation was real, a few weeks passed and he still didn’t receive a payment. Amidst frustrations, he continued to pursue the resolution when he was told by a “company rep” that he needed to get a Mexican tax identification in order for the sale to go through. This forced him to make another payment via a wire transfer to an attorney the scammers referred in Mexico city. “I went online and looked at the Mexican consulate website, and it had this form they needed. It made sense,” Kittleson said.
Scammers Appear to be “Helpful” During Manipulation
Once again, he was relieved and the process wasn’t too far from ordinary. Shortly after, a document with a formal-looking government stamp arrived in the mail. This included what he thought to be his new tax ID. When the sale and his payment still wasn’t being processed, the scammers told him he needed to pay his taxes and the buyer would reimburse him. He was concerned, but his experience in real estate trumped his doubts. “I was nervous, but I thought, ‘OK, this is the first time I’ve done a property transfer in Mexico.” He even went as far as researching Mexican taxes online. He felt good about it and wired over more money. But the stalling continued when he was told he needed to pay additional taxes in the state of Jalisco.
In order to feel good about making another payment, Kittleson initially wanted to fly down to Jalisco and make the payment himself. But he was informed that it wouldn’t be necessary. “They said, ‘It’s not like the U.S. You can come down, but nothing will happen for you,'” said Kittleson. Since he’d paid so much already (and had all the bank statements), he agreed. At this point it was almost as if he trusted the scammers and valued their opinion. This is how deep he had gotten into the scam. Money spent and documentation blinded him from the harsh reality. Because of the confidence in the deal, he didn’t even consider saving money to cancel the timeshare altogether.
Until You Abort, The Timeshare Scam Never Ends..
Although his payment for Jalisco taxes was taken care of, he was once again prompted to make another payment. This time, it was for an insurance bond so the bank could release the funds. The scammers claimed that it was necessary to protect the bank from possible “cross-border” fraud. Again, he offered to withdraw the funds in person, but was told the bank wouldn’t do anything without the bond.
“They had an answer to everything I asked about,” Darren said. It had now been 10 months since he made his first payment. When he was prompted to make another payment for another bank bond, he decided he’d had enough. Thinking back to that moment in time, Kittleson remembered, “At that point, I said, ‘I’m done.’ It was like, ‘Oh, I just got scammed.’” $24,000 was flushed down the drain and the timeshare was still his.
Aside from his desire to exit the timeshare contract, Kittleson pursued restitution by filing complaints with the BBB, the Arizona Attorney General’s office and even the FBI. Once he confirmed he was most certainly being scammed, he learned other victims had filed as well. Their complaints had already resulted in the Department of Real Estate filing a cease-and-desist order against the claimed names of the fraudsters. While the Arizona Attorney General is now helping people like Darren spread awareness, victims understand the probability of the criminals being caught isn’t likely.
The Benefit of Getting Rid of Timeshare Contracts For Good
Stories like these can immediately create a paradigm shift for timeshare owners or those pursuing vacation ownership. Many people believe stuff like this can’t happen to them. They’re blinded by the possibilities of the deal. While a timeshare property can be the centerpiece of family memories, it can also be the root of financial hardship. This is why it’s important to take the time to thoroughly research travel opportunities and make sure you’re 100% confident in large purchase decisions.
Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion and always be skeptical of timeshare solutions. Far too many are scams are present in today’s travel industry. As you can see, not everything is what it may seem. If you’re looking for a way to get rid of your timeshare agreement, we’d be more than happy to go over your options with you. We take pride in avoiding pressure sales and we always take the time to qualify every prospect for timeshare cancellation services.