FTC Warns of Tropical Real Estate Scam Targeting Retirees

December 12, 2018

The Federal Trade Commission warns that a tropical investment scam is targeting Americans who hope to retire and live abroad. Developers were reportedly selling lots in a remote jungle area in Belize as a luxurious resort community. But the FTC alleges that instead the developers pocketed the investors’ money—up to $100 million--and have built barely anything.

The FTC has alleged fraud and filed a lawsuit against the developers and Belize’s Atlantic International Bank—the first time in history that FTC has sued a foreign bank.

Palm trees and tropical shrubs.

hnswick - Morguefile

“The bank did not play any part in any alleged fraud involving Sanctuary Belize,” AIB Chief Executive Ricardo Pelayo told The Wall Street Journal.

The development was proposed to take 13 years and require more than 1,000 investors to build. FTC names seven individuals and 17 companies as defendants in its case against Sanctuary Belize Enterprises. The FTC says that previous lawsuits filed in Belize brought no action or “were resolved under questionable circumstances,” which prompted the agency’s lawsuit.

Last year, two FTC agents posed as potential buyers and recorded conversations with salespeople from Sanctuary Belize Enterprises. The undercover agents were told the project would be finished quickly. “The development is nowhere close to finished and is unlikely to ever be finished,” FTC’s lawsuit alleges.

More Americans are retiring overseas and increasingly are choosing to settle in Central American countries. The number of retirees collecting Social Security while living internationally has risen to more than 413,000 in 2017, a nearly 40 percent increase from a decade earlier, according to the Social Security Administration.

Belize is a country along the Caribbean with a population of about 375,000. It has grown as a second-home market for Americans.

Americans Spent $100 Million on Tropical Real Estate. They Were Scammed, FTC Says,” The Wall Street Journal (Dec. 11, 2018) [Log-in required.]