OLYMPIA — It probably seemed like a good idea.
People, most of them elderly, who had purchased vacation timeshares all around the world and who were looking to get rid of them turned to Jonathan and Christine Gibbs and a promise of an easy transition out of their timeshare and the financial obligation that comes with them.
But state and federal officials say most of the promises made by the Gibbs were empty.
“Their initial advertising was false. Their sales pitch contained information that wasn’t true. Their contracts contained information that wasn’t true,” Lisa Erwin with the Washington Attorney General’s Office said.
“The Gibbs claim to have handled over 30-thousand timeshare transfers and at least, in our view, 15-hundred Washington residents have been victims of the Gibbs timeshare scheme and a number of folks nationwide as well,” Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said.
Thursday’s lawsuit comes after an 18-month joint multi-state, multi-national investigation led by the Federal Trade Commission.
The AG alleges the Gibbs offered to execute vacation timeshare transfers but would not pay the bills or maintenance fees on the properties.
And, in some cases, it is alleged consumers paid the Gibbs to execute transfers, which were improperly done.
Without telling consumers, the couple allegedly transferred vacation timeshares to their own businesses or paid people to have their signatures put on title documents.
“A number of complaints started to come into our office in 2010 and after an intensive investigation… we are now filing suit,” Ferguson said.
Investigators allege the Gibbs created more than two dozen shell companies, that is fake companies to hide the properties and cover their tracks so no one could tie them to the scheme that may have netted the Gibbs 70 million dollars.
“They didn’t disclose this to consumers. They didn’t tell them that in addition to taking money from them for the transfer services, the Gibbs would now own the timeshares,” AG Office attorney Lisa Erwin said.
Investigators say consumers should learn from this and be extra careful.
“Consumers should beware the phone call offering a lot of money tomorrow in exchange for a smaller but substantial amount of money today. It always turns out to be a scam,’ Federal Trade Commission spokesman Dave Horn said.
And those who seek to run such a scam; the AG says you’ve been warned.
“If you don’t play by the rules our office will hold you accountable. That’s what we’re here to do,” Ferguson said.