Jeff Gold of Hamden has traveled the world with his wife, kids and grandkids. Last winter, he bought a timeshare condominium in Costa Rica. The sale closed without a hitch, but it's what arrived at his Connecticut home months later that plunged him into deep water.
"I got a letter that looked very official sent by email, from a place called R and D Properties," said Gold.
It was an offer from an outside company to rent his new condo for one week, each of the next 10 years.
"The contract in Costa Rica is 99-year contract, so it didn't strike us as strange that he could get us a 10-week rental agreement," said Gold.
He thinks the dollar signs in his eyes blinded him to what was really going on.
The paperwork appeared to come from a company named R and D Properties in Richmond, Virginia, and asked that Gold pay the annual maintenance fees on the condo in advance to close the deal. For $5,950 up front, the Golds would receive $21,000 in rental income. The $5,950 was going to be reimbursed as well.
Enter company number two: Infinity Financial Services of Orlando, Florida, and Derek Williams, representing themselves as the "closing agent" for the transaction.
Gold followed the detailed instructions and wired the $5,950, plus a 10 percent commission of $2,100, to a bank in Mexico. When R and D asked for an additional $5,000 to be wired to cover the Mexican taxes, Gold got a pit in stomach.
"The big mistake I made was not contacting the property to make sure that this was legitimate, and it turned out none of it was legitimate and it was a complete scam," said Gold.
Don Nadeau, a licensed broker of timeshare properties, has spent the past decade in the business. He says that first unsolicited letter was a red flag, but the most critical one relates to the money.
"In the timeshare world, anything remotely connected to a request for an upfront fee is a no-no. Run for the hills," warned Nadeau.
Nadeau says the industry is plagued with scammers, but the offshore resorts present additional issues because of differences in their legal systems.
He has several recommendations for anyone looking to buy or resell a timeshare:
- Stay with name-brand products like Marriott, Hilton or Disney
- Call a licensed timeshare resale broker required to register with the state that grants its license
- Check with the Better Business Bureau or Trip Advisor forums to verify the company you're dealing with is legitimate
The Costa Rican resort informed Gold it had been dealing with a scam that appeared to be a inside job, but at that point, he'd already wired more than $8,000. Over the winter, he spent countless hours filing reports and complaints in Connecticut, Virginia and Florida, but was told in each case that because the companies involved are not registered and licensed, short of hiring a lawyer, he has no recourse.
"The money's gone, the companies are gone, the characters are gone. They move very quickly," said Nadeau.
The Troubleshooters called R and D Properties. Both numbers on their letterhead were disconnected. But we did get an answer at Infinity Financial. On several occasions, we were told that Derek Williams was not available and when we mentioned Gold, the person on the other line said:
"We cannot discuss any other clients because of our confidentiality agreement."
Gold is philosophical about the money lost.
"I'm smiling because I feel foolish... because I'm a smarter guy than I showed in this transaction," said Gold.
Gold says he's telling his story in hopes of saving at least one other person from making the same mistakes he made and losing hard-earned money.
He says he's not soured on the timeshare industry and is looking forward to using his Costa Rican condo and maybe even trading weeks to explore somewhere else.