A timeshare is a resort property with ownership rules that limit your access to specified time periods each year. Timeshare buyers frequently develop remorse after they learn how little money they can recoup when selling their timeshares -- often pennies on the dollar. Many timeshare owners decide to donate their properties for a tax deduction rather than try to sell them. Timeshare donation scams attempt to defraud owners through a variety of bogus schemes.
Fraudulent timeshare donation websites disguise themselves by wholesale plagiarism of reputable charities. The false sites publish stolen articles and images to convince donors they are legitimate. They collect your information and sell it to timeshare brokers for at least $5 per lead, and often substantially more. The scammers who buy these leads use them to perpetrate further deceptions upon donors. If you are interested in donating your timeshare, carefully investigate any website before contacting it.
Another scam is to charge a fee for taking a timeshare off of the owner’s hands. These charges can range up to $2,000 and are justified as payments for items such as title closing, recording fees and transfer taxes. The up-front fees are simply pocketed by the criminals, who disappear after receiving payment. A similar scheme is for a “charity” to accept your donation, but never transfer title and never pay the mortgage, annual timeshare fees, or property taxes associated with the donated property. Eventually, the mortgage holder will foreclose on the property and likely sue the donor for damages.
Beware of a phone call from a timeshare fraudster who promises you large tax deductions for a donated property. First, the IRS limits tax deductions to the actual price received on the purchase of a donated property during the first 36 months after donation. Second, if the donation is not subsequently resold, the maximum deduction is $5,000 unless an appraisal justifies a higher amount, using legitimate timeshare comparatives. That's further complicated because the timeshare appraisal market is itself rife with fraud; a recent case in Boston involved 20,000 victims ripped off for over $12 million.
In perhaps the most ironic twist, the Internet now is replete with websites that warn you about fraudulent timeshare donations and then offer you a “real” donation service. Many of these sites are themselves scams. They sucker people who are aware of the fraud problem in the timeshare industry but are not conversant with this particularly nasty scheme. These sites often post the logos of well-known legitimate charities or a chamber of commerce. Always double-check references like these before proceeding.
- Scam Artists and Seniors: How to Protect Yourself and Those You Love From Investment Fraud; Community Press
- Timeshare Vacations For Dummies; Lisa Ann Schreier
- Timeshare Confidential; Robert Turner
- Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images