Two arrested in timeshare scam in Hawaii

A timeshare scam that bilked thousands of dollars from unsuspecting clients by offering phoney vacations to places like Hawaii and Las Vegas, has resulted in the arrest of two people in Sacramento, Calif.

Fake ads featuring hotel stays at chains such as Hilton Hotels, Outrigger Hotels and Holiday Inns, instructed customers to send checks and money orders to private postal mail boxes. The crooks were paid, but failed to deliver or respond.

“This arrest was the result of our extensive, collaborative investigation with the U.S. Postal Inspector, the Honolulu Police Department “CrimeStoppers” unit and the BBB of Southern Colorado,” said Anne Deschene, president of the Better Business Bureau of Hawaii.

The defendants were charged with 14 counts of mail fraud, which includes a sentencing enhancement because the crime involved telemarketing fraud, according to the Assistant U.S. Attorney in Sacramento. In October 2004, the Better Business Bureau of Hawaii began investigating numerous calls from Colorado residents checking on a Vacation Properties International timeshare offer.

Colorado residents reported that they saw a “Hawaiian vacation deal” in an advertisement in Colorado newspapers. Some residents paid out money to this company for deposits on their vacations, but no one received tickets for any air trip for a Hawaii vacation.

The company directed all correspondence and money to an address in Oakland, Calif. The BBB of Hawaii validated through property management that the operating address advertised was false.

“In addition, the company also claimed that they were members of a ‘Hawaii Timeshare Bureau’ and had been recognized by a ‘Hawaii Trade Association’. There is no verification that these groups even exist,” Deschene said.

Checks cashed by Vacation Properties International were traced to an account at World Savings Bank in Calif. The U.S. Postal Inspector in Sacramento froze the account listed under the name Vacation Properties International. While some checks written by Colorado residents were not cashed, many lost money to the scam.

The BBB offers the following tips when considering a timeshare opportunity:

  • Be wary of “great deals” and low-priced offers. Few legitimate businesses can afford to give away products and services of real value or substantially undercut other companies’ prices.
  • Don’t be pressured into buying. A good offer today will be a good offer tomorrow. Legitimate businesses don’t expect you to make snap decisions.
  • Ask detailed questions. Find out exactly what the price covers and what it doesn’t. Be sure to ask about additional charges, as well.
  • If you do decide to buy, get all information about the trip in writing. Once you receive the written information, make sure it reflects what you were told over the phone and the terms.you agreed to and call the businesses or places listed to confirm their participation.
  • Don’t give your credit card number or bank information over the phone unless you know the company with whom you are working.
  • Don’t send money by messenger or overnight mail. Some “scam artists” may ask you to send them money immediately. If you pay with cash or check, as opposed to using a credit card, you lose your right to dispute any potential fraudulent charges under the Fair Credit Billing Act.
  • When in doubt, say “no.” If you have any doubts about the trustworthiness of a company, trust your instincts. It’s less risky to turn down the offer and say “no.”
  • Before doing business with an unfamiliar or new company, check with the Better Business Bureau at 536-6956 or toll-free 1-877-222-6551 or online at www.hawaii.bbb.org.

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