Aspen parking scam isn’t over | AspenTimes.com

Aspen parking scam isn’t over

Karl Herchenroeder
The Aspen Times

Parking meters in downtown Aspen accepted $9,358 in declined transactions between Sept. 5 and Oct. 22, according to numbers released by the city of Aspen on Thursday.

That equates to average daily losses of $199 across a 47-day period following the city's discovery of a parking scam that has resulted in between $600,000 and $800,000 in losses since 2010.

Aspen Finance and Parking department officials could not be reached for comment, but city spokeswoman Mitzi Rapkin conceded that despite the city's attempt to blacklist invalid cards, drivers are still finding ways to fleece the system.

"If you want to scam a system, I'm sure there's always a way," she said.

In late September, the Aspen Police Department opened an investigation into the parking-meter scam, where drivers use prepaid, maxed-out debit cards to gain free parking. Because the system employs batch processing, the cards are not declined until the end of the day, even though parking is granted.

Police spokeswoman Blair Weyer said that from an investigative standpoint, all the department can do is work with the information it has. Detectives are currently waiting on transaction records from Global Pay, the company that processes Aspen's payments. According to Weyer, the department has had access to the Finance Department's spreadsheet on declined transactions.

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"Obviously we know that theft has been occurring, which is why we're investigating," she said. "If we could have done something with (finance) information right away six weeks ago, we would have, but it's just not complete enough for our detectives to start making contacts with certain individuals or banks."

She said that while Finance Department data is limited, Global Pay data can potentially be traced back to perpetrators. Additionally, the department cannot know whether transactions are theft or the result of motorists unaware they are using maxed-out cards, she said.

With such widespread use, Weyer said department detectives have not been performing any physical sweeps or monitoring of the meters.

"The time that that would take I don't think is realistic for them," she said, noting the detectives' workload with other cases. "Their efforts have been more on getting complete data and understanding what they really have to work with before taking those kinds of measures."

She said that the police are expecting data from Global Pay within two weeks, though there's hope for a quicker turnaround.

"I wish I had more to work off of," she said. "But on our end it's a waiting game, and it's a little frustrating."

Finance Department Director Don Taylor has said in the past that a nominal rate of declined transactions is expected with any credit-card processing system. In 2010 and 2011, declined transactions accounted for about 2 percent of all transactions, according to Taylor. But this past summer, as more drivers learned of the scam, that amount grew to as much as 30 percent.

Based on monthly averages provided by the Finance Department, the daily rate of loss can be calculated at $73 in 2010, $105 in 2011, $216 in 2012, $631 in 2013 and $1,866 in the six months leading up to September 2014.

In late September, the Aspen City Council approved an expenditure of more than $600,000 for a new 81-station parking system, which is expected to be installed in November or December.

herk@aspentimes.com