Attorney General announces settlement of timeshare scam

The following is a press release from the Washington State Office of the Attorney General:

Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Thursday the settlement of a major timeshare consumer protection case involving Jonathan and Christine Gibbs of Olympia.

The Gibbs claim to have handled over 30,000 timeshare transfers across the nation. At least 1,500 Washington consumers were victims of the Gibbs’ timeshare and travel schemes.

The Attorney General’s Office (AGO) has recovered $1.2 million from Jonathan Gibbs. This will cover full restitution for Washington state victims, between $1k-$20k, and all attorneys fees.

“This large, complex scheme involved unfair and deceptive business practices that harmed hundreds of victims locally and thousands nationwide,” said Ferguson. “This settlement will assist Washington consumers and sends the message that if you don’t play by the rules, we’ll hold you accountable.”

As part of their layered schemes, the Gibbs offered to transfer timeshare ownership from people who no longer wished to own their timeshares. The couple would then facilitate a ‘transfer,’ but would not pay the underlying obligation or maintenance on the properties. Without telling consumers, they transferred timeshares to their own businesses, or paid people to have their signatures put on title documents.

Following the lawsuit, Christine Gibbs cooperated by agreeing to facilitate the return of timeshare properties throughout the United States. In exchange for her significant assistance, she is dismissed as a party. She denies any wrongdoing.

Jonathan Gibbs denies any wrongdoing, but agrees to not sell or buy timeshares or travel-related products.

This settlement provides timeshare resorts throughout the United States that were also duped by the Gibbs an opportunity to obtain titles to timeshares. These titles were transferred by the Gibbs’ into their numerous shell companies, or are held in the names of individuals that were paid for their signatures on timeshare deeds. Resorts who want to avoid the costs of foreclosure or default proceedings on these timeshares can determine if the return process in the settlement is a quicker and less costly method for them to regain timeshares or timeshare points.

Washington victims will be contacted by the AGO for refund information. Resorts will be contacted by representatives of the Gibbs for information on how to return timeshares. Contact for both consumers and resorts will occur in the next 30 days.

Senior Counsel Lisa Erwin handled this case.

Timeshares are a form of ownership that allows a group of people to share the use of a property by dividing rights into specific lengths of time by a contract or a property deed.

Typically, deceptive timeshare resellers claim to have ready buyers who will pay top dollar for consumers’ timeshare properties and trick consumers into dishing out hefty up-front fees. The resellers falsely claim that they can sell consumers’ properties, although no buyers are in place.

Consumers ultimately end up losing hundreds or thousands of dollars in bogus closing costs and unsold properties. Many of these scammers also promise refunds to consumers, but most consumers never get their money back.

Other deceptive vacation sales practices involve promoters tricking consumers into purchasing deeply discounted or ‘free’ vacation packages supposedly worth thousands of dollars; however, most consumers receive nothing of value or are required to attend lengthy high-pressure timeshare sales presentations.

The lawsuit against Jonathan and Christine Gibbs is part of Ferguson’s continuing efforts to stop travel and timeshare scams and protect consumers from fraud and deception in the marketplace.

To protect against these types of frauds, Ferguson provides these tips.

Signs it’s a travel scam:

  • You ‘won a free vacation,’ but you have to pay some fees first.
  • The company offering the prize wants your credit card number.
  • They cold-call, cold-text, or email you out of the blue. Before you do business with any company you don’t know, call the Attorney General and local consumer protection agencies in the company’s home state to check on complaints; then, search online for consumer complaints.
  • They don’t — or can’t — give you specifics.
  • You get pressure to sign up for a travel club for great deals on future vacations.
  • You get a robocall about it. Robocalls from companies are illegal if you haven’t given a company written permission to call you; even if you haven’t signed up for the national Do Not Call Registry.

Tips to avoid a timeshare release scam:

  • Check out the company before you agree to anything. See if the Attorney General and local consumer protection agencies in the company’s home state have complaints, then search online for complaints.
  • Deal only with licensed real estate brokers or agents.
  • Get all terms in writing before you agree to anything.
  • Consider doing business only with someone who gets paid after the timeshare is sold.
  • Be alert to a repeat scam.