Podcast: Veteran scammed by drug cartel in $900K timeshare fraud

James thought he was getting rid of a Lake Tahoe timeshare he no longer used. Instead, he found himself ensnared in a scam perpetrated by one of Mexico's most violent drug cartels. AARP's podcast, The Perfect Scam, presents this tale in a two-part special that is chilling because it includes audio recordings of James' conversations with the scammers.

James, a veteran with a long career in law enforcement and the Army, received a call in October 2022 from a man named Michael. Michael offered to sell James' timeshare, claiming he had a Mexican buyer willing to pay $22,470—more than double what James originally spent in the 1990s. Eager to unload the timeshare that he hardly used, James signed a contract facilitated by an escrow company based in New York City.

But things didn't go as simply as James was led to believe. Michael informed James of a $2,696 transfer fee, promising reimbursement. More fees followed: $3,595, $16,155, $22,000. Each time, James saw the funds appear in the online escrow account, so he paid up. The final straw came when Jesus, a so-called representative from Banco de Mexico, demanded an $18,000 insurance fee.

James' wife was battling cancer, adding to his distress. The scammer told James, "I don't care if your wife is in the hospital. To be honest with you, I don't give a damn. But you know what, if you give a damn, it's your money, and my name is written all over it. Do you understand?"

Despite his background, James had unwittingly fallen into the clutches of the Jalisco cartel, which has diversified into scam call centers, forcing people to work for them under threat of violence. The cartel's brutal methods included leaving bodies outside their call centers to ensure compliance.

In total, James lost nearly $900,000 to these scammers. I can't wait for part two of the story.

Previously: John Oliver takes on predatory timeshare and timeshare exit industries