Up to 10 people who were planning a ski trip to Park City since the start of the season have ended up disappointed when they arrived.
They were the victims of fraud involving vacation rentals, the Park City Police Department says. It is a rare for there to be such a concentration of cases in Park City, and the Police Department is warning people to be cautious as they book and pay for accommodations.
Mary Ford, a detective in the Police Department, said the schemes have been similar. They have started with a posting on Craigslist, a popular website for rental advertisements, Ford said. The advertisements say the places are for rent at low prices and have pictures of properties that look nice, she said. They are "too good to be true," Ford said.
Once someone contacts the person advertising the rental, there is typically some back-and-forth communications between the parties. The person who is advertising the rental eventually requests that money be wired to a bank, she said. The banks are normally outside of Utah. Some have been in Texas, Ford said.
"They're usually told show up at the house, they'll be somebody there," Ford said.
The victims arrive at a house and find someone lives there and that the place is not for rent, she said. The police are then contacted.
Each of the cases reported in Park City this ski season has resulted in a loss of between approximately $900 and $1,200, according to Ford. The cases included houses and condominiums, mostly in Old Town, she said.
Ford said the Police Department lacks the jurisdiction to pursue the cases since the transaction occurred outside the city. The police in Park City refer them to law enforcement agencies where they live and where the bank that received the money wire is located.
One of the cases was reported late in December, when a Georgia man told the police he had arranged a rental of a condominium on Woodside Avenue after seeing the place advertised on Craigslist. He wired a deposit of $800 to the person who advertised the place, the police have said.
The person arrived in Park City, went to the address, discovered the owner of the condominium lived there and found that the place was not for rent according to the police. The money had been wired to a bank in Texas, according to the police.
Ford recommends people find lodging in Park City through a property-management company and with entities that have someone available in person. She also said victims of fraud on Craigslist should contact the site.
The report in December came less than a month before the start of the Sundance Film Festival, a busy time for rentals in Park City. Ford said she anticipates more complaints from people claiming fraudulent activity. Some of the busiest parts of the ski season, including Presidents Day weekend and spring break, approach quickly after Sundance.
The Park City Chamber/Bureau said it had not received a complaint about lodging scams during the ski season. Bill Malone, the president and CEO of the Chamber/Bureau, said he has heard of fraudulent cases online, though.
The Chamber/Bureau website offers a feature allowing people to book lodging. Malone said anyone advertising places on the website must be a Chamber/Bureau member, something that requires a business license. He also suggested people use property-management companies when booking lodging.
"The only thing we can say is people need to use their head and do business with legitimate businesses," Malone said.