Timeshare contract purchase scams owner out of $24,000 – The Arizona Republic

An experienced real estate agent is speaking out about a sophisticated scam — a trap that ensnared him and could lure others into paying thousands of dollars to sell their timeshare contracts or reservations.
Darren Kittleson, who has worked in real estate for 30 years, was duped out of more than $24,000 by con artists who offered to buy his week at Garza Blanca Resort in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico.
The scammers knew the exact dates of his reservation, seemed to use real Arizona business names and brokers, and sent realistic-looking bank statements. Every phone number seemed to come from the right area code. Everything he looked into seemed to check out, Kittleson said.
The experience made him feel “stupid, especially because I’m in that business,” said Kittleson, 53, of Madison, Wisconsin. “They were so sophisticated in how they did it. I just don’t want it to happen to anyone else.”
Kittleson got a call last year from someone purporting to represent Westwood Realty in Phoenix with an offer to buy the days he had booked.
He looked up the company online and found it was licensed in Arizona, then located a building on Google Maps at the listed address. Kittleson even looked up the state real-estate license of the broker who claimed to be part of the sale. She had no complaints going back to the 1980s.
What Kittleson didn’t know was that the scammers were posing as a legitimate company and broker to dupe their targets. Investigators with the Arizona Department of Real Estate later determined that Westwood Realty and the broker were not involved with the scam. The listed address was for a different tenant. 
“I thought I was doing everything I need to in order to verify, verify, verify,” Kittleson said.
He even set a Google news alert for Westwood Realty so if something came up, he would see it.
Kittleson went forward.
He received an offer that was 60 to 70 percent higher than what he had paid for the timeshare. That didn’t faze him.
The swanky beachside hotel had grown in popularity, hosting celebrities such as Eva Longoria, Lea Michele, and The Real Housewives of Orange County.
“I really didn’t think twice about that price,” he said. “It didn’t seem far off.”
He signed a letter of intent and got a call from an escrow company in Colorado Springs that said it was working with a Mexican bank to deposit the funds from the sale.
Again Kittleson found the names of the companies were real.
“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.
When he called the bank phone number on the statement, a real person answered in Spanish with the bank name.
After waiting a few weeks without receiving a check, Kittleson inquired.
Representatives told Kittleson he needed to get a tax identification number in Mexico for the sale to go through. He could wire a payment to an attorney in Mexico City to take care of it.
“I went online and looked at the Mexican consulate website, and it had this form they needed. It made sense,” Kittleson said.
A document with a formal-looking government stamp arrived with what it claimed was his new tax ID.
But still the sale was stalled.
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Representatives told Kittleson he needed to pay taxes. The buyer would reimburse him. 
“I was nervous, but I thought, ‘OK, this is the first time I’ve done a property transfer in Mexico,'” Kittleson said. “I read online and learned about all the tax you have to pay. So I wired the money.”
Weeks went by. He was told he needed to pay an additional tax to the state of Jalisco.
Kittleson offered to fly to Jalisco to pay the amount.
“They said, ‘It’s not like the U.S. You can come down, but nothing will happen for you,'” he said. “I got so much invested already. And they did send me the bank statements.”
Next, representatives told him he needed to buy an insurance bond for the bank to release the funds to protect the bank from possible cross-border fraud.
He offered to fly to Mexico to withdraw the funds, but the scammers told Kittleson the bank wouldn’t do that without the bond.
“They had an answer to everything I asked about,” he said.
By then it was ten months into the ordeal. Representatives told Kittleson he needed to buy a bond for another bank.
“At that point, I said, ‘I’m done,'” Kittleson recalled. “It was like, ‘Oh, I just got scammed.'”
He had lost more than $24,000.
Kittleson filed complaints with the FBI, Better Business Bureau, and Arizona Attorney General’s Office. He later learned that while he was being scammed, other victims had complained and the Department of Real Estate had filed a cease-and-desist order against the claimed names of the scammers.
Kittleson said he doubts anyone will be caught since the scammers most likely are out of the country.
Consumer complaints related to the sale of timeshare interests in Mexico are increasing, according to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich.
The criminals often pose as real estate brokers representing a buyer who will purchase a timeshare for thousands of dollars, his office said. The fake deal requires the consumer to pay money for taxes or put money into escrow. The consumer is directed to wire money to accounts in Mexico.
The scammers often use the names of legitimate, licensed businesses in the United States, though the companies may be inactive. The con artists also create slick websites that appear real or write comments on internet review sites.
In some cases, criminals have posed as Mexican government officials that have set up a fund to assist victims of timeshare fraud, according to the attorney general’s office.
“These scammers know some people are desperate to get out of their timeshares and prey upon that vulnerability to steal their money,” Brnovich said in a statement.
Kittleson said all he wants is to warn others.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it is,” he said.
If you are a victim of consumer fraud, you can file a complaint online with the Attorney General’s Office.
Have you been scammed? Do you have a complaint against a business or government agency? The Arizona Republic/azcentral.com in partnership with Call For Action can investigate. We’re #HeretoHelpAZ.
Fill out this online form, text HereToHelpAZ to 51555, or call 602-444-2255 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday to talk to a Call for Action volunteer.
Consumer reporter Rebekah L. Sanders investigates issues of fraud and abuse involving businesses, healthcare entities and government agencies. Contact her at rsanders@azcentral.com. Follow her on Twitter at @RebekahLSanders


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