Timeshare remorse: Scammers still targeting buyers trying to exit lifelong vacation contracts

Southwest Sider Joaquin Becerril fell victim to a timeshare-related scam — one of many types of schemes that have grown more popular as people travel more post-COVID lockdown, according to a new Better Business Bureau report.

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Joaquin Becerril, who filed a consumer report after he was scammed by a company promising to sell his timeshare, at his Garfield Park home on Tuesday. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

When Joaquin Becerril and his wife bought a timeshare in Mexico four years ago, they thought they’d get yearly access to their favorite resort south of the border.

But the Southwest Siders soon had buyer’s remorse — realizing it would be cheaper to book the trips through a travel agent than make payments on the $14,000 timeshare.

Stuck in a lifelong timeshare contract, they turned to a company advertising on Chicago Spanish-language radio that promised to help get them out of it.

But they were soon bilked out of $4,000 by that company, which stopped returning their calls.

“All of a sudden, I had this bad feeling,” Becerril said. “They ghosted us.”

Becerril fell victim to a timeshare-related scam — one of many types of scams that have grown more popular as people travel more post-COVID lockdown, according to a new Better Business Bureau report.

The BBB received nearly 30,000 complaints about timeshare-related companies in the last three years.

The study found:

  • Vacationers often find themselves pressured into lifelong timeshare commitments that they learn later contain undisclosed yearly fees.
  • Since timeshares are nearly impossible to sell, buyers find themselves victims of scammers promising to help them exit those contracts.
  • Some scammers even impersonate the timeshare companies and trick victims into paying bogus fees.

The No. 1 thing consumers should know?

“Anything high pressure, that’s the tipoff to the rip-off,” said Steve Bernas, president of BBB Chicago.

Most people who buy timeshares had no intention of buying them that morning, he said.

In Becerril’s case, he bought a timeshare while vacationing in Mexico.

“They tried to liquor you up. I’m sure that didn’t help,” Becerril said.

Joaquin Becerril, 42, who filed a consumer report to the Federal Trade Commission against a company that promised to get him out of a timeshare contract, sits in his home in the Garfield Ridge neighborhood, Tuesday, April 25, 2023.| Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Joaquin Becerril says he was bilked out of $4,000 by a company that was supposed to help him get out of a lifelong timeshare contract. | Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

In its report, the BBB urged the timeshare industry to be ethical about sharing details about monthly maintenance costs and the window to ask for a refund, if there is one.

But buyers should be vigilant — timeshares are not true investments.

The average timeshare is sold for around $24,000, but many buyers struggle to sell them, even for a low as a dollar, the BBB found. The average yearly maintenance cost is $1,120.

Timeshare contracts are typically lifelong and are sometimes even passed on to a buyer’s heir.

“If you don’t have enough information, don’t buy anything, in any industry,” Bernas said. “Sometimes you end up paying more than you bargained for.”

Exit company scam

One of the more prevalent timeshare scams involves companies promising to help people exit their lifelong contracts.

Becerril said the company that scammed him seemed legitimate at first. It had a Chicago office, met him in person and returned his calls.

“I’d hear [the advertisement for the business] in the car. So we thought it’s legitimate,” said Becerril, a 42-year-old electrician from Vittum Park.

But the company was more interested in taking his money than ending his contract.

The company said it couldn’t legally tell him to stop making payments for his timeshare but strongly suggested he should, Becerril said. So he did, and he soon defaulted on the loan he took for the timeshare in Mexico.

Meanwhile, the company billed Becerril $400 a month for its services. The company said it could get him out of the contract in a year to 18 months.

“At first, they were really attentive,” Becerril said. “Then as payments started to get closer to the end, I called them up and asked how the process is going.”

The company told him to expect an email from it in a week or so, but the email never came.

Becerril visited the company’s office building and its unit was vacant.

“The office administrator said she hadn’t seen anyone in the office in two weeks,” he said. “That’s when I realized we got scammed.”

Beyond filing a complaint with the BBB, he’s notified the Federal Trade Commission and the California attorney general, in the state where the company was based.

He’s only paid a thousand dollars on the Mexico timeshare and was told he’s safe from creditors as long as he doesn’t own property in Mexico.

Looking back, Becerril said it’s obvious now it was a scam.

“I really regret not listening to my little voice, ‘No, I’m not interested,’” he said.

“I talked with my wife about it after. She said, ‘I had my doubts but you were enthusiastic, so I didn’t say anything.’”

His advice for others: “Listen to the voice in your head.”

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