'People shouldn't feel stupid -- these are very good crooks'
BOISE, Idaho (KBOI) - A Boise man tried to sell his timeshare and ended up losing thousands of dollars instead.
"I know, I'm the dummy that took the scam, but you know I want to keep other people from falling in the same trap I did," Earl Nelson said.
Nelson is a retired Greyhound bus driver and was looking to sell his vacation timeshare in Orlando, Florida. He said he was relieved when a selling agent called him and said he found a buyer.
"So I said sure, I'll finish it--I'll go ahead and sell it. And he said well, he lives in Nicaragua, he is a U.S. Citizen in Nicaragua," Nelson told KBOI.
The man posing as the selling agent called Earl Nelson constantly. The "seller" convinced Nelson to wire him about $20,000 to cover the taxes in the timeshare sale. Immediately after sending the money, Nelson was told another problem popped up. The selling agent told Nelson a mistake on the international paperwork left him in trouble with the IRS.
"Well there was mistake on the paperwork, and because your Social Security number on it was on it, we're fining the company $500,000 because it's a federal document," Nelson said.
Nelson then received another phone call. This time, it was someone posing as the IRS. The man on the other line even faxed Nelson tax forms with his personal information on it. Nelson said he thought he was in trouble with the government, so he continued to wire money in hopes of clearing his name.
"I kept telling myself it was OK because its the US government protecting me, it's IRS agents, you know, everything is OK," Nelson said.
For Nelson, the phone calls wouldn't stop. He had the selling agent calling him, a woman claiming to be the buyer calling him, someone posing as the IRS calling him and he was receiving faxed letters from a company named TATOC, or the Timeshare Association Timeshare Owner Committee. KBOI reached out and spoke to the actual CEO of TATOC who is based in the UK. He checked the company records and confirmed the people named in the letters and faxes never worked for the company.
TATOC also has a specific portion of their website dedicated to helping consumers and warning them about these types of schemes.
KBOI called the man telling Nelson he was with the IRS. The phone number, which Nelson used to return phone calls, no longer worked. KBOI also called the man posing as a selling agent. We called from several different phone numbers. The man had a generic voicemail and never returned our calls.
Nelson said he eventually reported his case to the FBI after sending off $40,000. Nelson also said he told the people calling him to leave him alone.
While many think scams like this don't typically happen in Idaho, that's just not the case. Idaho's Deputy Attorney General, Brett DeLange, told KBOI multi person scams like this happen in our state all the time.
"I keep thinking now I have seen it all, and then I haven't. I guess greed knows no end to creativity," DeLange said.
DeLange said crime families are often behind these types of schemes. Crooks can spoof phone numbers and disguise their IP addresses. There are many digital manuevers that make it tough for law enforcement to track down the bad guys.
"The man from River City used to come into your town and bamboozle you. He doesn't have to come to your town anymore. He can just set up shop in the Caribbean and be beyond your jurisdictional reach," DeLange said.
In scams like this, DeLange said once the money is gone, it's gone for good. DeLange also said while he can't personally help Nelson, the fact the Boisean is stepping out and sharing his story can help protect others.
"People shouldn't feel, like I'm stupid or something. These people are very good crooks. And I have a lot of respect for that gentleman," DeLange said.
The bottom line for Earl Nelson is a depleted retirement fund and carrying a heavy heart after his decision.
"I don't distrust people, but if you call me on the phone and I don't know you, I am going to distrust you," Nelson said.