Scam swindles Hotel Jerome out of $22,000 | AspenTimes.com
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Scam swindles Hotel Jerome out of $22,000

Joel Stonington

A variation of the “Nigerian Scam,” one of the most common tricks in the book, nailed the Hotel Jerome for up to $22,000 recently.

An organization called Christ Embassy allegedly made a group reservation at the Hotel Jerome last month for an agreed-upon amount of $21,000, according to the Aspen police. The group, based in London, then sent the hotel a forged cashier’s check for $27,000, and representatives acted surprised when informed they had paid too much.

The Jerome accounting department acknowledged the overpayment and wired the $6,000 to a bank account Christ Embassy specified.

The swindlers then allegedly called the Hotel Jerome just before Memorial Day weekend, saying three members of the group had died, and canceled the entire reservation. The hotel again wired money, $16,000 this time, back to the group (withholding a nonrefundable deposit of $5,000).

“It was very carefully and meticulously planned,” said Dan Glidden, who took the report for the Aspen police. “Time is on the bad guy’s side. Memorial Day gives them one extra day.”

Glidden said the Hotel Jerome put a stop order on the second wire transfer, so it is unclear if the order went through. Because U.S. banks are closed on Memorial Day and the money was transferred on the Friday before, the holiday might have made all the difference.

The Hotel Jerome declined to comment.

Variations of the Nigerian Scam have been around since the ’80s, and most people with an e-mail account have seen the swindle.

This particular scam is only one deviation of what is known as “419” (named after the portion of the Nigerian penal code that involves fraud) or “advanced fee fraud.”

Generally, someone is singled out for a large payment, usually in the realm of $10 million to $60 million ” a lottery prize, bank account of the deceased, purchase of real estate, conversion of hard currency, sale of crude oil ” for deposit in a U.S. bank with a percentage for the recipient.

Once the person is hooked, he or she is asked to pay fees for storage, insurance, transportation and other things before the transfer. Often, the communications come on official-looking stationary with seals of Nigerian government, though the scam has gone worldwide in the last decade or so.

The U.S. Secret Service reports that fraud of this type has increased dramatically in recent years, with indications that the scam grosses hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

A variety in which there is a contract for goods or services, paid for by a false check, was what caught the Hotel Jerome. When the check finally goes through the bank, it bounces. That’s only after the victim has wired cash to the front organization.

“Overpayment should be a big red flag,” Glidden said. “Half a dozen phone calls, and this group just walked away with $22,000.”

Joel Stonington’s e-mail is jstonington@aspentimes.com


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