Brazen Scam!

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Brazen Scam!

US/Mexican swindlers try to get US$10,000 from J'can man fleeced 20 years before

BY DESMOND ALLEN
Executive editor - special assignment
allend@jamaicaobserver.com

Monday, January 27, 2020

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Twenty years after falling victim to timeshare scammers in Florida, United States, a Jamaican man says he has again been approached in a new effort to con him out of US$10,000.

The man, a professional living in Kingston, asked not to be identified but provided documents, e-mail messages, and notes of telephone conversations with the alleged swindlers. He also referred the Jamaica Observer to his lawyer who confirmed his story.

The latest scheme involved Americans and Mexicans purporting to represent a company called Consult and Recover operating out of Chicago, Illinois, and claiming to have recovered funds the Jamaican and others lost in a timeshare-related investment in 2000.

This is the Jamaican man's story:

“I took my family to Disneyland at Kissimmee, Orlando, in the summer of 2000. People who worked at the hotel we stayed, recommended that we attended a meeting discussing attractive investments in the area.

“They provided transportation to the location of some villas and gave everyone a nice breakfast. It turned out to be a high-pressure sales meeting where we saw hundreds of other people, mostly foreigners who were also visiting Disney.

“We were showed some nice condominiums and invited to buy into a timeshare plan. Under the plan people would jointly own a condo by purchasing a week or several weeks per year.

“You could pay cash or make monthly payments as in a mortgage, for which you would have 10 years to complete payments. Buyers would then own that week for life after completing the payment which at the time was US$15,000.

Consequently, the purchaser would be able to spend his/her week or weeks at the condo, rent it out if not using it or allow friends and family to stay there during that period.

“I like the idea because I was thinking we would save on hotels whenever we went to Disney, or could make back some money renting it out. In addition, they told us we could spend that week/weeks at partner hotels in any part of the world, including Jamaica.

“I bought a week in July in a two-bedroom condo at Westgate Resorts and agreed to pay US$250 a month inclusive of maintenance fee, which I did for several years, eventually paying about US$6,000.

“The first time I tried to use my week - I wanted to give it to my brother and his wife as an anniversary gift – I could not make contact with the people at Westgate. I tried many times but in vain. No one answered the phone or responded to my e-mails. I cannot say Westgate was a scam but I just could not make contact.

“I decided then that I would not pay anymore money until they got in touch with me. Soon enough, a collections company started calling and warning that if I did not pay up, the condo would be foreclosed and I could be in all sorts of trouble.

“I told them the problem I was having and asked them to help me to contact the relevant people and I was informed that they were a collections company and did not offer such services.

“That was the end for me. I decided it was best to cut my losses and run. Over the next several years I received many phone calls until they gave up and said they would foreclose on the condo.

“Then a new set of calls came, this time it was from people claiming that they had people who wanted to buy the week from me. They had gotten my name and number from a government agency in Florida. But I would have to list it in a magazine, for about US$300.

“Against my better judgement and the anger of my wife, I listed…twice, thinking it would not be much to lose for a chance at getting back my US$6,000. Those callers, clearly scammers, soon disappeared. Other callers came in the ensuing years but by now I had learnt my lesson and blew them off.”

The Jamaican said that on January 7, this year, a man with a US accent and giving his name as Tim Corley of Cost and Recover, called to say they were in the business of recovering money for people who were scammed in timeshare schemes.

They told him he stood to recover US$329,000 minus US Gov't tax of just under US$10,000 and attorney's fee of about three per cent of the total. He wanted to know my age, income level, and if I had any other investment.

“Once bitten twice shy. I had only lost about $7,000 over several years so why am I entitled to over $329,000, I asked. His answer was that only 65 of the scammed persons were located and the total money recovered was divided equally among them. I asked him to put it in writing so that I could begin my due diligence,” he told the Observer.

The next day he received this e-mail: “Your file has been submitted and approved for a compensation programme called Investment Loss Recovery Fund. This is a foreign asset forfeiture meaning there was a sufficient amount of money seized offshore in Mexico — all coming from fraud. There was a total of US$21,389,707.00 confiscated with 65 total slots for payout of US$329,072.41 for each beneficiary. Each and every beneficiary is responsible to cover a 3 per cent international tax fee of US$9,872.17 prior to receiving their payout.

“The payouts are being disbursed on a first come, first served basis. Our leading attorney Mr Thomas Albright bar#245492 is providing a guarantee for each beneficiary and insuring their payments.

“As of today there has been 61 people payed with 4 slots remaining. Below you will find a link describing how these programmes take place along with the credentials for Thomas M Albright.

“Please respond verifying that you did receive this e-mail and reach out to me with any questions you may have. You may also reach Mr Albright at (415)785-7882. Have a blessed day.”

The Jamaican said having learnt his lesson, and now full of suspicion, he decided to have his lawyer do the due diligence on his behalf, with the possibility of exposing it so that other Jamaicans could be wary, if it turned out to be another scam.

The lawyer who spoke to the Observer, also on condition of anonymity, said she called the number given for Thomas Albright in San Francisco and got a voicemail, not for a company but an individual. She left a message which was not returned.

The man named Tim Corley kept calling the Jamaican and pressing him to pay the US$9,872 so that they could wire the US$329,072 to him, and warning at the same time that time was running out as other people could be given the slot.

The Jamaican said that as he pressed for more proof of the legitimacy of the fund-recovery programme, Corley sent him a copy of an insurance certificate from Albright which was supposed to guarantee that tax money sent to release the funds from the investment loss recovery would be refunded if the funds were not paid over. But this made him even more suspicious.

Corley then asked him to call a Dr Francisco Figueroa who was supposed to be the man handling the programme at the Scotiabank Mexico. When he did not call Figueroa, someone with a Spanish accent called him and identified himself as Figueroa.

Figueroa sent him a document in Spanish which he passed to his attorney who wrote the Mexican the following:

“Dear Dr Figueroa, I act on behalf of Mr… Please note that the document you have sent to my client purporting to be an approval notice is in Spanish. Do you have an English language version of this document that we can peruse? Please advise.”

Figueroa responded: “I was told you would be contacting me. Yes, you are correct our documents are in Spanish. We are in Mexico. There is no way for me to translate, then notarise these documents, because that is what would have to be done legally. I am now in my last slot remaining in the investment loss-recovery programme, so if this programme does not have you convinced it may be too late for your requests to be fulfilled. Good afternoon.”

The Jamaican attorney wrote back: “I tried to contact Mr Albright to get some questions answered from an attorney standpoint, however, the phone rings without answer and I have left a voicemail.

“My question is what is it exactly that you require Mr… to do at this point to process the payment? In today's current environment, I cannot, as a prudent attorney advise my client to send funds to some unknown entity, especially in circumstances where there are so many unanswered questions.

“My client mentioned to me that you had agreed that as an alternative, the taxes and fees may be deducted after recovery, if Mr Albright is authorised to collect the funds on his behalf. What paperwork is required for this to happen? Is it that he is supposed to sign this Spanish document that we are unable to understand? Please provide some clarity on the way forward.”

Figueroa responded: “I think we are getting a little too ahead of ourselves. As per the Office of Foreign Assets Control, they have assigned certain attorneys for this case due to it being international. I will be violating a non-disclosure agreement if information is leaked to (no disrespect) any attorney contacting me.

“You have to understand we are dealing with victims of fraud and identity theft and the last thing Scotiabank Mexico wants is for lawsuits to start raining in on us. For that matter I will terminate contact with any attorney that is not on the approved list. If your client wishes to take advantage I would have to deal with said attorneys directly.”

The translated document had nothing to do with Scotiabank Mexico and appeared to be on the joint letterhead of the “Secretario de Hacienda Y Credito Publico” and the “Servicio de Administracion Tributaria”, but with no mailing or e-mail address or phone number.

A visit to the website of Consult and Recover revealed several similar reviews, one of which read: “Alex Steger called with info about a fund set up for those scammed by Premier Timeshare Solutions, a company put out of business in 2009.

“Thomas Albright, an attorney out of San Francisco, gave a written insurance letter that guaranteed that tax money sent to release the funds from the investment loss recovery would be refunded if fund not paid.

“Alex Steger was supposed to be in Chicago as was [the] office of Consult and Recover. Neither appear to exist and the phone was unable to be traced. There is a Thomas Albright with a Ca bar #245492, but unable to locate in San Francisco. Also his phone # 415-549-8994 (ext4012), could not be traced. This company offers many services...avoid any and all.”

In his last phone call on Friday, January 24, Corley said he would not be dealing with any attorney but the “ones approved by the Office of Foreign Assets Control”, seemingly a ghost organisation supposedly based in Mexico.

“My attorney and I agree that this was another clear attempt to fleece me out of my money,” the Jamaican said. “Like they say, 'Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me'.”


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