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The Investment Lie: Why Timeshares Target American Senior Citizens

Older couple reading mail together. Sitting by the table with cookies and tea

Would you like to spend more time with your loved ones, making memories on the beach, or in the pool at some exotic holiday location?  The intention of senior citizens who purchase a timeshare, is to access that quality of life, with frequent vacations that they otherwise may not be able to afford.

Many seniors live on a restricted budget, so naturally, the offer sounds “too good” to be true, and they don’t want to miss out on the opportunity.  We discuss why seniors are a prime target for vacation resort sales and high-pressure telemarketing (or fraudulent) timeshare practices.

Why Seniors Are Targeted by Timeshares

Our clients have shared some terrible timeshare sales experiences with us.  Some seniors have indicated that they were bullied into purchasing, after saying “no” several times, but being reluctant to hang-up rudely on the sales person, they were victimized into saying “yes” to the purchase of a timeshare.  It can be very stressful for a senior to exit a conversation (and telemarketers know that), which gives the sales person more time to effectively wear-down the prospect.

Several emotional angles are used to present the timeshare opportunity to seniors. One of them, is that the timeshare will be an ‘investment” that will allow the family to spend more time together.  If seniors are feeling isolated, this may seem like the perfect solution to entice children and grandchildren to spend more time together.

Another angle is that the timeshare can be deeded to next of kin, and inherited by family members, which gives a senior the sense that they are bestowing a gift with lasting value, to their family.  The problem is that if the timeshare is not paid off in full, that gift will come with a heavy price tag for the estate; timeshares can claim against other properties for membership dues and maintenance fees.   Children or grandchildren would have to assume the financial responsibility of those fees to keep the timeshare “in the family”, and it is a burden of debt that few people want to assume.

Lastly, seniors are more likely to have savings, or access to financing that allows for the lump-sum and upfront purchase price that vacation properties require.   Seniors also have access to home equity loans and other sources of lending, and tend to have an above average credit rating, qualifying them easily as low-risk buyers.

Vacation resort clubs and developers specifically target seniors, and they are rated highly as prospects for timeshare sales propositions, whether via telemarketing, direct mail, email or in sales presentations that offer free vacations.

Caught in a Scam and Embarrassed to Ask for Help

Seniors who have accepted an offer, made payment and become trapped by a predatory contract are not likely to share the details of their problem with their children.   When we counsel families about timeshare contracts, one story that we hear time and time again, is how senior citizens purchased a timeshare without understanding the full financial obligation or consequences of the offer.

What is disappointing is the lack of scruples demonstrated by some sales teams.  The average senior citizen lives on a limited income, and savings are often reserved for health care expenses and other important needs.  When a senior becomes overwhelmed financially, they become embarrassed, even though anyone, at any age, can be victimized by pressured sales tactics.

Seniors who have purchased a resort membership (or more than one) and have found themselves in a financial problem, are unlikely to tell other family members.  In fact, they may be so embarrassed that they deliberately hide the problem, until their resources are depleted, and monthly expenses are compromised by additional bills, like a timeshare membership.  The stress and anxiety eventually leads to involving other family members, who can help find a solution, like timeshare cancellation services.

Protecting Through Awareness and Education

Start a dialogue with your parents or senior relatives about telemarketing, mail and email fraud.  It is important to remember that high-pressure sales tactics have evolved in the last ten years, and that telemarketing sales ‘professionals’ can be almost bullying in nature, especially when dealing with a prospect that appears to have difficulty hanging-up, or saying “no” to the offer.

Our legal team recommends that families sit together, and rehearse pressured sales scenarios, to help their parents and grandparents to be prepared to decline an offer, even if it means doing so impolitely (if required).   Many clients that we talk to, who are assisting their parents to cancel their timeshare contracts, share that they wished they had engaged the discussion sooner, to protect their parents from unwanted solicitation and financial complications.

In addition to sharing tips with your parents or grandparents, there are numerous online resources and videos that help explain the financial risks, and the solicitation tactics used against seniors.  The AARP website is full of senior-friendly resources that help families learn more about fraud, and they have a free AARP Fraud Fighter Call Center (toll-free) that seniors can call anytime they have a question about a special offer or incentive they have received.  The toll-free number is 1-800-646-2283.

Reducing the Risk for Seniors

There are a few steps that family members can take, that will help protect seniors from being exploited by timeshare or other high-pressure solicited offers.

  1. Make sure that telephone numbers (including mobile) are unlisted. If your parents have a landline, consider replacing it with a smartphone that is easy to use. Smartphone numbers have a reduced rate of solicitation, and numbers can be easily blocked (depending on your mobile phone plan), to avoid repeated, pressured calls from telemarketers.
  2. Contact the Direct Marketing Association at DMAChoice.org. This website allows you to set your mail preferences for postal delivery, and opt-out of junk mail and unsolicited offers. Reputable companies will not send advertising or offers to residences listed on the DMA opt-out, but fraudulent businesses will still mail, despite the listing.   Any mail that is received should be reported to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which can lead to legal action against the advertiser or business, for violating the “do not mail” list.
  3. Set your parents up with an easy-to-check online personal credit report. There are many to choose from, and teaching seniors to routinely query their credit allows families to prevent fraudulent charges, bills and other problems from occurring.   It is a good way for children with senior parents to help monitor for problems and assist.