Olympia couple sued for scamming 30K timeshare owners

SEATTLE — An Olympia couple is being sued by the state of Washington, which says the pair scammed 30,000 timeshare owners who were anxious to sell, Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced on Thursday.

Washington’s civil lawsuit against Jonathan and Christine Gibbs is part of a national crackdown coordinated by the Federal Trade Commission.

The attorney general’s office said the Gibbs fooled elderly consumers into paying them thousands of dollars to transfer ownership of their vacation timeshares to shell corporations.

There are two keys to recognizing a scam like this, the attorney general said.

One is to recognize that timeshares are not worth more than, or even as much as, consumers originally paid for them years ago. So if someone offers to buy a timeshare for a lot of money, it’s probably a scam.

The second key is if someone is asked to pay a fee before being given money for a timeshare, or a lottery prize or something similar, it is most likely a scam, especially if this offer comes from a stranger.

“If an offer seems too good to be true, make some phone calls,” to check it out, Ferguson said.

Ferguson described the Gibbs scam as a large, complicated scheme that harmed about 30,000 consumers nationwide, including 1,500 people in Washington state. The couple collected more than $70 million while operating as 25 different companies, he said.

It took Washington investigators 18 months to investigate and shut down the operation. They were able to get the information they needed to file the lawsuit thanks in part to citizens who called the attorney general’s office to complain.

“That’s how many of our cases get started,” Ferguson said. “Folks call our office, or got to our website.”

The Federal Trade Commission is announcing more than 80 civil lawsuits in 27 states.

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On the web: Washington state attorney general http://www.atg.wa.gov/

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