Time Share Scams
February 25, 2004 9:22 AM   Subscribe

We went to a home show recently, and while there my sweetheart apparently filled out some sweepstakes form. As a result, we got a call today from a nearby resort offering us several apparently-nice 'free gifts' in exchange for visiting their timeshare-resort and "learning more about their property" .... my question is: I assume this is a scam of some kind, but what kind of scam is it?

They're offering us 3 free nights a a hotel of our choice (which must be booked through their travel agency), plus a $50 "travelers check" and a $40 Macy's Gift Card. They say we have to bring photo ID with us, and attend a 1 1/2 hour presentation and tour. Sweetheart is willing to do this to get the free hotel as we've been planning a trip anyhow ... but I'm sure participating in this will end up costing us in the end, I just can't quite see where the trap will be....

Forewarned is forearmed. Please forewarn me.
posted by anastasiav to Home & Garden (15 answers total)
This sounds suspiciously like a South Park episode.
posted by adamrice at 9:28 AM on February 25, 2004

Best answer: The scam is that you will be attending a hard sales pitch, one where you'll have a tough time leaving or saying no. They typically do them in isolated places, so there's no reason to quickly leave. You'll be subjected to a video then followed up with a one-on-one sales pitch. If that's not effective, a more senior sales guy will give you the hard sell, if that's not effective, an even harder sales pitch will come. They're trying to sell you a slot in a vacation spot and will make it sound like it will cost pennies per day. It's not impossible to get through the day without buying anything, but it certainly could be stressful.

The catch is the prizes are almost always low-dollar crap. The hotel packages typically are usually bought in bulk and have specific dates and locations. On the west coast, everyone offers a free weekend in vegas and its always in the dingiest old strip hellhole during the off season.

I worked for a timeshare company when I started college, not as a sales guy, but as support staff because I was young and stupid. These are the things I saw, and it was a lot like the worst aspects of car buying. Everyone is trying to rip you off for a buck, and these timeshare seminars basically send you through the guantlet of slimy sales guys.
posted by mathowie at 9:32 AM on February 25, 2004

That 1 1/2 hour presentation? More like a grilling by experts in high pressure sales, that only gets nastier the more you resist. Also, I will bet that 'tour' is not counted as part of the 1 1/2 hours and can be as long as they desire. Plus, if you read the fine print, you have to sit there and take it, or end up owing the total cost of the trip plus 'fees'.
posted by mischief at 9:34 AM on February 25, 2004

I know people that did this once. From what they told me, the timeshare salesmen were incredibly adept at railroading people into signing contracts, and the prices were so exorbitant that the resort could afford to give away lots of "valuable merchandise" in order to rope people in.

Before I signed up for the Do Not Call list, I received an automated call every couple of days from a resort offering me three days and two nights in Vegas (air + hotel). Never touched it, though.
posted by Prospero at 9:35 AM on February 25, 2004

re: Prospero. By filling out that card, she has given them permission to bombard you with phone calls in spite of any Do Not Call list.
posted by mischief at 9:41 AM on February 25, 2004

I've done this.

It went pretty well except the hour orientation turned into the better part of a morning and every time we went into a public area we were attacked by silly guys with bad hair trying to sell us something we had no intention of purchasing. The salepeople were real assholes and took full advantage of what they percieved as a captive audience. The biggest trap I noticed was with the paperwork upon check in, they wanted enough to run a full credit check and I am convinced that we would have been shown the door quickly if we had failed to pre-qualify. We also hit some cold call list for similar places and continue to recieve a steady stream of solicitations two years later.

The upside was an open bar and a nice room -- we escaped after lunch and hit some some touristy local spots, went back for the cocktail party (the above mentioned open bar) and left again. We slunk out Sunday morning before the mandatory 'brunch'.

In retrospect, it probably would have been a lot less trouble to fork over a few bucks for a decent room and be done with it. But, like you, we were curious about how it worked.
posted by cedar at 9:44 AM on February 25, 2004

> This sounds suspiciously like a South Park episode.
It also sounds like the start of a certain Family Guy episode.
posted by brownpau at 9:45 AM on February 25, 2004

Response by poster: By filling out that card, she has given them permission to bombard you with phone calls in spite of any Do Not Call list.

Actually, silly sweetheart filled out the form and gave them his cel phone number ... so not my problem, at least in the harassing-call sense.....

Thanks for the info. Now lets see what I can do to convince him that its not worth going.... (more stories welcome!)
posted by anastasiav at 9:51 AM on February 25, 2004

Back when my time was worth a lot less than it is now, I indeed go and sit through the hard-sell, gladly, knowing that there was no way in hell we'd ever soften for the joyless "vacation timeshares" we were shown by the idiot marketroids.

In response, I really did get the free round-trip tickets on United offered, and used them without problem.

So it really comes down to a calculus of how much is your time worth? If three hours of your life, and some concomitant irritation, is worth less than the proferred inducement, it's not a scam.
posted by adamgreenfield at 9:51 AM on February 25, 2004

Also read Harmon Leon's A Waste of Timeshare for a good laugh.
posted by misterioso at 9:52 AM on February 25, 2004

I went to one of these in the UK with my parents when I was a kid and I found it educational. It engendered my healthy resistance to sales people and techniques. One key was revealing the high prices about halfway through and then at the end offering to halve them if we signed up on the spot. Also as said above, we were passed up through 3 levels of salesmen, each getting more aggressive.

I also distinctly remember entering the building (sales office and apartment mockup, not resort itself) through the front door but on exiting the presentation, being shown out through the fire exit.
posted by elliot100 at 11:19 AM on February 25, 2004

My girlfriend and I signed up for one of these a few years back and got a 2 day stay in Ft. Lauderdale and 4 days in Orlando. It made for a pretty cheap and enjoyable vacation. The pitch in Ft. Lauderdale lasted about 2 hours. We just told the manager that we were two broke college students(the truth) and were pretty much left alone. They weren't much worse than pushy car salespeople. Just let them know upfront that you have absolutely no interest in buying or signing anything and they'll save their energy for the big fish.

We went through another pitch in Orlando that lasted maybe an hour. The saleswoman didn't even seem to be trying. We got a free breakfast out of it and took off. On the way out another couple told us about another place trying to sell timeshare condo in Celebration that was offering 2 day passes to the Disney parks. We went through the 2 hour sales pitch and tour and got our tickets. We were done well before noon.

I can see why many would steer clear if they had the money to go anyway and didn't want to spend a few hours of their vacation sitting through a sales pitch, but it's not that bad and made a cheap vacation for us.
posted by ttrendel at 12:56 PM on February 25, 2004

I have heard so many horror stories about these types of places, but I actually got something good out of the deal back in the early nineties.
A place called me up, and offered me a free gift to come see their new townhomes.... I had nothing to do, so I went down.

I didn't buy a thing, and got a brand new 49cc scooter out of the deal. It was ugly, but it ran swell for a number of years.
posted by bradth27 at 2:50 PM on February 25, 2004

My dad wrote a book about these scams called Unreal Estate thirty years ago - sounds like nothing has changed.
posted by nicwolff at 4:00 PM on February 25, 2004

Damn, bradth27, a scooter? And here I was happy to get a nice boom box from the timeshare folks. A scooter would have been great. That must have been some expensive timeshare.

When I did this the hard sell wasn't that hard. I just said "Nope, sounds fun but I'm not buying anything now" and for some reason they believed me and let me go, boom box in hand.
posted by litlnemo at 12:33 AM on February 26, 2004

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