FEB 15, 2013 4:16pm ET

Consumers Alerted About Mexican Timeshare Fraud Scheme

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The California Department of Real Estate issued a warning to consumers about a new fraudulent scheme that targets and preys upon the owners of vacation timeshares in Mexico.

As part of the scheme, the DRE said scammers usually contact and solicit timeshare owners by telephone or email and tell them that they either have buyers or renters for the properties or that they will market the units for sale.

The fraudsters, who work out of Mexico, subsequently use the names of companies (some which have professional-looking but usually phony websites) and individuals in California purportedly claiming to work with Mexican government officials. However, most of these individuals are really part of the fraudulent scam, the DRE said.

From the investigation being conducted by the DRE so far, the state agency said most of the entities and people are the “creations and/or partners” for the schemers, but appear to be “legitimate.” Furthermore, some of the companies have used California addresses that belong to U.S. government agencies to prove their legitimacy.

To legitimize their scam even further, many of the fraudsters have engaged in identity theft by representing themselves as actual California real estate licensees, the DRE claimed. In these cases, the criminals use an actual real estate broker’s name and license number in an attempt to validate the transaction.

“If and when the timeshare owner victim calls the broker’s number, which has been provided via email, phone call, postal mail, or on the website that has been created to complete the fraud, the voice of the supposed broker is actually the voice of the scammer,” the California DRE said in a consumer alert.

Through this scam, the timeshare owner victims are enticed to wire funds in exchange for a service such as the payment of taxes or fees, to a company or person in Mexico. The DRE said the amounts wired have ranged from $3,250 to $85,000.

Some of the properties identified in this scam are the Mayan Palace, Moon Palace, Groupo Palace and the Grand Miramar. Other Mexican vacation resort properties have also been mentioned as well, but the DRE did not report the names of these housing units.

“Fraud by perpetrators in the area of timeshares requires that timeshare owners be on the lookout for uninvited or unexpected emails (and/or mail) or telephone calls from criminals and scammers who promise that they can sell or rent—or will purchase—the owners’ timeshares and ask for upfront fees,” said the California Department of Real Estate in a consumer alert. “In order to protect their interests, and not become a scammer’s next victim, such owners must remain skeptical, proceed cautiously, ask probing questions and do their homework, and only work with truly licensed and legitimate professionals.”

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