By Rachel La Corte Associated Press
OLYMPIA — At least 1,500 people in Washington state who were victims of a timeshare and travel scam will receive up to $20,000 each under a settlement announced Thursday by Attorney General Bob Ferguson.
Ferguson announced that the state has recovered $1.2 million from Jonathan Gibbs, who along with his wife, Christine, had claimed to handle over 30,000 timeshare transfers across the country.
The state sued the Olympia couple in June, and the attorney general’s office had said the Gibbs fooled consumers into paying them thousands of dollars to transfer ownership of their vacation timeshares to shell corporations. The couple collected more than $70 million while operating as 25 different companies, according to the attorney general’s office.
Ferguson said that the money recovered will pay each Washington state victim between $1,000 and $20,000, as well as all attorney fees.
“This large, complex scheme involved unfair and deceptive business practices that harmed hundreds of victims locally and thousands nationwide,” Ferguson said in a written statement. “This settlement will assist Washington consumers and sends the message that if you don’t play by the rules, we’ll hold you accountable.”
Ferguson’s office says that Christine Gibbs denied any wrongdoing and cooperated by agreeing to facilitate the return of timeshare properties throughout the country. In exchange, she was dismissed from the case.
Jonathan Gibbs also denied any wrongdoing, Ferguson said, but has agreed to not sell or buy timeshares or travel-related products. Ferguson said that the consumers were affected will be contacted by his office within the next 30 days. The settlement also means that timeshare resorts that were affected by the scheme will be contacted by the state and given an opportunity to obtain titles to timeshares that had been transferred to the shell companies.
Ferguson said that signs of travel scams include notification of winning a free vacation, but needing to pay fees first. He said other signs include:
— The company offering the prize wants your credit card number.
— Unsolicited phone calls, texts or emails.
— A company’s refusal to give the consumer specifics.
— Pressure to sign up for a travel club for deals on future vacations.
Washington state Attorney General: www.atg.wa.gov