Lodging scams still alive and pfishing
There are lots of variations, but it’s still about scamming money
by Dawn Ballou, Pinedale Online!
October 6, 2006
Attention hotels, motels and other lodging establishments: This scam has been around for quite some time, but it bears repeating since we’ve just heard of another local business mentioning they think they were targeted recently by one of these scammers.
Usually the inquiry comes in first via e-mail. Since most motels, hotels, guest ranches and Bed & Breakfasts do a growing amount of their initial contacts through e-mail and website contact forms, it’s good to know what these scams look like so you can get a Red Flag if something like this comes in to you.
The request is usually from a foreign country, typically from someone with marginal English-speaking or writing ability. We’ve seen them from England, South Africa, Japan, Romania and various other countries over the past couple of years. The global nature of the internet allows these people to base from pretty much any country.
The person inquiring typically wants to book lodging for 6-8 people for up to two weeks. They say they are acting as the representative of an associate or booking for a business customer. When they get down to the nitty-gritty of the actual booking, which may involve a series of back and forth e-mail correspondences, they want to charge the lodging and services on a credit card or pay via a bank money order.
The tip-off signal that this booking may be a scam is if they ask to charge amounts significantly over the cost of the actual stay for additional services, such as airline tickets or car rentals. They generously offer to include additional compensation to the lodging establishment for their trouble in making any additional arrangements for the group.
Contacting these people back by phone involves an international phone call which often goes nowhere. The latest excuse we heard was the customer told the business they couldn’t be reached by phone because they were based from an on-shore oil rig in South Africa.
After the charge has been processed on the card, or the money order has been received by the lodging establishment, the customer contacts again and cancels the booking. They ask that the reimbursement be wired back to them immediately via Western Union or some other immediate money transfer method.
The catch is that the bank money order is bogus (even though it looks genuine), or the credit card given is stolen. Because of the urgency in the transaction, and the enticement of making the booking for a big block of time for a large group, the business may go ahead and process the requested transactions without making the standard checks to verify the legitimacy of the funds. Once the bank discovers the fraud, the business is responsible for paying back all the charges made on behalf of that customer, as well as out the money they “refunded”. The lodging establishment can end up paying up to double the price of the original booking out of their own pocket if they fall for this scam.
If you believe you have either been a victim of this kind of a scam, or think some of your e-mail correspondence with someone may be one of these scams, please contact the Chamber of Commerce and your local Better Business Bureau and let them know about it. They will pass along this info to their members so word gets out to everyone to be on the alert for these kinds of possible scams. We here at Pinedale Online would also appreciate hearing about any variations on this scam from any of our local businesses so we can help spread the alert.