FBI warns of Mexican cartels targeting Americans in timeshare fraud schemes

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The FBI is warning of a spike in scams targeting timeshare owners and that a large portion of these schemes are being perpetrated by Mexican drug cartels.

The schemes entail criminals targeting part-time property owners, often older Americans, and convincing them to hand over large sums of cash under false pretenses related to their timeshare properties. 

Scammers will usually conduct extensive research on potential victims, creating fake documents and impersonating individuals from “trustworthy institutions” to sell their storylines and scare victims into compliance, the bureau said. 

Scammers will use a combination of high-pressure sales tactics and cyber-enabled fraud strategies to convince victims that it is legitimate. 

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Assistant Special Agent in Charge Paul Roberts said these schemes have “devastating consequences for victims’ financial futures, relationships, and physical and emotional health.” 

The proceeds are increasingly going to fund the cartels’ violent activity in Mexico. The nefarious activity is attractive to cartels because it’s typically cheaper, posing fewer logistical, labor and oversight challenges when compared to other revenue streams like drug and weapons trafficking, Roberts said. 

The scammers themselves often participate in these schemes because they fear being the cartels’ next victims.

While multiple Mexican drug cartels have been involved in timeshare fraud schemes, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel has played a dominant role “based on complaint reporting and financial tracing,” the FBI said. 

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The bureau is partnering with the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control to investigate these cases.

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The American Resort Development Association (ARDA) told FOX Business that “the recent activity in Mexico is just one example of some of the fraudulent activity we see from third-party timeshare exit companies.” 

“That’s why at ARDA, we’re proponents of early and effective consumer education on legitimate timeshare exit avenues to prevent scams like this one from taking root. In fact, we partnered with our members to create the Coalition for Responsible Exit as a resource to help timeshare owners responsibly and safely exit their timeshare should they decide it is no longer a fit for their lifestyle,” said ARDA President and CEO Jason Gamel. “I encourage anyone who is thinking about selling their timeshare to visit ResponsibleExit.com, and to never engage with proactive resale offers.”

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