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Questionable Timeshare 'Exit' Companies Profit Off Desperation

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- A growing number of timeshare owners looking to get rid of their vacation properties are being warn to watch out for some companies that promise to help.

For Gary Newton, selling his portion of his Tahoe timeshare has been an uphill battle.

"You go there to ski and that's it," explained Newton. "There's no resale market."

He's tried selling it and even attempted to give it back to the vacation resort. He finally decided to pay a timeshare exit company just over $3,600 to get rid of it.

"The deal was they would initiate the process and give me an update every month," explained Newton.

The contract promised a "safe and secure transfer strategy," noting the process "usually takes 3 to 9 months."

But 18 months later, Newton was still waiting. And he's not alone in his timeshare exit troubles.

According to timeshare website Red Week, at least 1.15 million timeshare owners want out.

"It is possible you could be stuck with it forever," said California Real Estate Commisioner Wayne Bell.

Bell warns that the glut of properties and owners' desperate to get rid of them has created easy prey for unscrupulous timeshare exit companies.

"We want consumers to stay away from companies that aren't licensed, that make bold promises, who charge money up front," said Bell.

ConsumerWatch asked Bell to examine the agreement Newton signed. The commissioner said it appeared intentionally vague.

"I'm not sure what they're purporting to do," said Bell. "If you can't explain what they're going to be doing, then you definitely should not give them money."

Tired of waiting, Newton contacted ConsumerWatch. When we reached out to the company, they agreed to refund his money.

Though he was happy to get his $3,600 back, it left Newton right back where he started: stuck with a timeshare he doesn't want and yearly maintenance fees he can't get rid of.

"If anyone would come along and say, 'I'll give you 50 cents,' I'd say, 'It's yours!!'" said Newton.

The trade association for the timeshare industry advises owners who want to get rid of their timeshares to contact the resort, developer, or home owners association directly and see if they can work out an exit solution together.

It also advises timeshare owners not to pay an upfront fee to anyone offering help getting rid of a timeshare.

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