“Fractional vacation home” companies bristle at the word “timeshare” since it has connotations of tawdry developments and fast-talking sharks trying to bamboozle you into something you don’t really want. But at the risk of alienating future advertisers, the luxury version of this game is not any more secure when it comes to the financials. The numbers are just bigger. This became very clear with the recent belly-up move of a company marketed by esteemed names Abercrombie and Kent and Andrew Harper’s Hideaway Report. Get the sordid details from this USA Today story: Members of a bankrupt vacation club strike back.

As anyone who runs these things should know, when you stiff a bunch of rich people, an army of lawyers will follow. And stiff them they did.

“The clubs, which enabled members to stay in a network of multimillion-dollar vacation homes in glamorous destinations, cost $100,000 to $1.3 million to join, plus annual dues and daily usage fees. Abercrombie & Kent and Harper ended their association with the clubs, which they did not operate, two years ago. Re-branded as Tanner & Haley destination clubs, they went bankrupt in 2006.”

In other words, people put up the price of a nice little beach house for a fractional share in a bigger and nicer one and were left with…nada.

Here’s a bit of advice. Buying a real house or condo that you own outright is real: real property, real title, real ownership, and you at the helm. If you must buy into a fractional plan to get rid of ownership hassles and leverage into a bigger place, due even more due diligence than you would for an outright purchase, not less. The risks are higher, the ability to even break even on a future sale is iffy, and the unknowns are greater. You can find plenty of people who have done this and are thrilled. Be one of them instead of the ones having weekly meetings with a class action attorney.