Aspen booster club try to bust up sports scammers

National companies are attempting to bilk local businesses out of thousands of dollars through a scam that feeds off local student athletes.

It’s an ongoing battle that the Aspen High School Booster Club has been combating since 2016, when it took over fundraising for local sports. For a couple of years prior to that, Big Game Promotions sold advertising for AHS sports calendars, which helps pay for athletic programs.

But AHS Booster Club board member Kim Allen said she noticed discrepancies on the amount the San Diego-based company was charging and what the school was receiving.

So the AHS Booster Club and student athletes took the fundraising in house. But that didn’t stop Big Game Promotions and others, like HS Backers and National Sports Publishing, from allegedly duping local businesses into giving money. Business owners report that these companies are beyond persistent, calling several times a day for months.

Alana Herzog, owner of the Frame Center located in the Aspen Business Center, said she was a victim of the scam by Big Game Promotions in 2016.

She said she gave more than $1,000 for a sponsorship ad for a poster that never materialized for the AHS Booster Club.

“Those a–holes,” she said. “They kept calling and said words like ‘booster club,’ and ‘kids,’ … all the right words,” Herzog said, adding the company would only communicate via email and she could never get a response from a human being.

Donnie Lee, general manager of The Gant, said a company called Media All Stars scammed his business out of hundreds of dollars over a year ago.

“What a crappy thing to prey on,” he said. “We try to support the schools and the next thing you know, it’s going somewhere else.”

Allen said she thought the scamming had subsided but then reports surfaced that these national companies were at it again this spring.

A representative of the Ralph Lauren store in Aspen confirmed that a company posing as a fundraiser for the AHS Booster Club approached him a month ago. He said he didn’t fall for it. Then this past weekend, two high school students walked into the store asking the business to sponsor the sports calendar for next school year.

“It will always be a student athlete that comes to you,” said Aspen High School Athletic Director Martha Richards. “It’s not ever going to be a phone call or an email or Snapchat or whatever they use.”

Allen said the booster club sends out emails to local businesses as a heads up that students would be contacting them to buy poster ads.

“We felt strongly that the students should take over the solicitations in person,” she said. “It’s definitely a scam and I don’t know if we can stop them, but we can educate the community to not engage and send them money.”

When asked for comment about its alleged scamming, a woman who said her name is Barbara Garcia and works in community relations for Big Game Promotions, told The Aspen Times a company representative would call back with a comment. No call back occurred.

The Aspen Police Department is aware of the scam, and has been contacted by some of the national companies. It does advertise on AHS’ real booster club poster, which features student athletes and their respective sports’ calendars for the year.

The national companies have bad reviews online from other schools about their deceptive practices, including the Better Business Bureau and a website called the Ripoff Report.

Allen estimates that the booster club has lost about $8,000 in advertising revenue in the past two years due to the scam activity.

“It gives Aspen High School and the poster a bad name,” she said.

The money raised through the posters, of which there are three for the year — fall, winter and spring — pays for items like nets, uniforms, balls and other equipment needs for high school athletes. Allen said the booster club nets about $6,700 a year. The goal is $10,000.

Richards, who has been on the job for a year, said the booster club supports so many athletic endeavors for students, as well as other programs in the high school.

“They are critical for the athletic department,” she said. “It’s a very inclusive group. We are all Aspen Skiers.”


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