First things first, timeshare scams target travelers/investors alike, who are looking for affordable ways to vacation, to acquire benefits like discounted rates and free stays, for a fee. Unfortunately, under these new names like, “Private real estate Group” etc. we almost fell victim to this outrageous scam during our trip to Tulum Mexico. The story unfolds like this…
Our Arrival in Cancun Airport
While walking towards the exit of the airport we were looking around for signage that would direct us to our rental car shuttle. With a look of pure confusion on our faces, we were approached by a friendly-looking man, who seemed concerned and wanted to help us. Little did we know, that this guy was part of a timeshare scheme. He took us to his booth and looked up the rental car info. He told us what steps to take to get to them and where to stand for pickups and that they wouldn’t make stops here for at least another two hours. His helpfulness made us feel comfortable and assured. He then asked where we are staying. When we mentioned Dreams Tulum Resort & Spa, he was impressed and said they are a very nice resort but a European-owned hotel. He continued that they don’t put money back into the Mexico community. From there, he started to squeeze in a recommended hotel, Garza Blanca owned by two Mexican brothers who supply resources for the country through more than 50 non-profit programs. After minutes of chit-chats and one-sided commendation of the Villa Del Palmer Hotel Group, he was able to persuade us to pay a visit to their newer property in Playa del Carmen, which mimics the Garza Blanca property development coming to Cancun. As I googled Garza Blanca, I was impressed with its luxury look and our trust in what he was sharing continued to build. Gio then asked if he could share some affordable activities with us. With a wait time of two hours, we didn’t mind. He told us about Xel-ha and X-caret tours and how he can get us free tickets just for visiting the hotel.
Again, he stressed that they are not a Timeshare but a private real estate group. One requirement is to have a bank card with a MasterCard or visa emblem because Villa Grp are partners with them and he gets a bonus just for inviting Mastercard and visa card holders. Sounded suspect but we did get certain perks at retailers for being Amex holders so we brushed the red flag aside. Here’s an all-smiles picture of the three of us that Gio insisted he takes with us, his new friends.
Property Visit in Playa del Carmen
Days after, we were picked up by a representative from their company. After an hour journey, we went through a shady entrance and into this nicely developed building. When we arrived, we were asked to present our Visa and MasterCard, just as Gio said we would. They wrote Visa and MC on this form and gave our cards back to us. We were then escorted by Leslie the woman in the red jacket to a lovely dining room for breakfast.
While enjoying our breakfast, our assigned representative, Leslie talked to us sincerely, sharing personal and engaging stories. The conversation, I can say, helped create a good rapport between us and I was happy to engage and connect with another black woman here. There were other groups of tourists present, 3 Spanish and black ladies; they happened to be assisted by an attractive Hispanic male representative. At the back of my mind, I thought maybe that’s why they took a picture of us so that they can make prior arrangements of the personnel who will assist us. Looking back our reps were a perfect fit; too perfect.
Now, during our tour, we saw a stand-alone model of what the finished units will look like but the actual beachfront building site had no real resort just a temporary building with pictures and TV screens. She told us to “imagine,” and that’s when our suspicion should have really risen; but as we looked around, all the other guest weren’t alarmed so we told ourselves maybe this is legit.
The signing of Contracts and Initial Payment
After 3 hours of saying no and continuously being presented with new price packages, they succeeded in pursuing us. All the possible discounts from affiliate hotels like Fairmont’s Banff resort and Burj Al Arab Jumeirah in Dubai, which generally cost thousands to stay at were amongst the list we were shown. There were so many other freebies, and perks offered that we felt like we possibly can’t pass this up, not to mention the cheering crowd of individuals in response to the guest who already made their decision to be, “real estate partners.” Next thing we knew, we were signing contracts and handing over our Visa bank card, putting $1,000 as a down payment with $200/ month payable for 15 years. Leslie told us that there was no turning back after signing the contract and there would be no way possible to get a refund. Still, in high hopes that this was a significant investment as travel bloggers, we remained confident in our decision.
Once back in the states, I shared this experience with my sister, by which she informed me that it was a timeshare scam―the Garza Blanca Time Share Scam to be exact.
Finding and resolving the issue
From the multiple complaints found online of travelers trying to use the promised benefits and not being able, to the timeshare website not listing any of the charming hotels we were shown from their booklet and after meticulous research, I have concluded that it was a scam.
With heart racing, I updated Dave who then called our bank to reverse the $1,000 down payment. He also emailed the fraudulent real estate group, cc’ing the Mexican government, that we want to cancel our membership. Our bank immediately returned our money and filed a fraud claim. A few days later, they sent me a reply, allowing the cancellation and reimbursement. Their offer included that we affix our signatures to the below letter for a refund. With everything falling into place without their assistance, we did not sign the document because we already had the charges reversed and weren’t going to be silenced by these Garza Blanca aka Villa Group Scammers.
How to Avoid Being Next
Overall, the timeshare scam was an unpleasant experience but was an eye-opener for us. We now have become more aware and learned not to be so trusting. Read our takeaways and tips below to ensure you aren’t next.
- Never make an impulsive decision, regardless of what others around you are doing.
- Beware of the solicitors that align the exit of the airport. These men and women look like airport employees and are situated along the exit hallway. In reality, they are there to scam you through timeshare schemes and non-deliverable gifts.
- And one important rule―if it’s too good to be true, then it’s definitely not true.