Lodging scams: low danger to Park City’s reputation
Scam artists have left a string of visitors to Park City without places to stay during vacations this ski season.
But a member of the Park City Council who works in the lodging industry said in an interview the city is in low danger of becoming known as a place where people become victims of fraud.
City Councilman Andy Beerman said online lodging scams occur elsewhere as well, meaning that Park City is not an unusual case.
"I don’t think you want to build a reputation of a town where you get ripped off," Beerman said, describing the danger to Park City’s reputation as being low.
Beerman, a first-term City Councilman, and his wife are the principal owners of the Treasure Mountain Inn on Main Street and the inn’s management company.
The cases involving claims of fraudulent lodging deals continued last week. The cases have stretched through much of the ski season. The Park City Police Department received at least two reports last week.
In one of them, someone reported a scam involving a place on Woodside Avenue. The police received the report at a little before 5 p.m. on Jan. 29. Public police logs indicated the scam stemmed from a posting to the online marketplace of Craigslist. Public police logs did not provide details. Many of the earlier cases originated with postings on Craigslist.
In the other case logged last week, reported on Jan. 28 at 2:29 p.m., the police were told of a situation on Webster Court, which is a small street in Thaynes Canyon. Public police logs indicated that someone reportedly rented a room in a house that he does not own.
Busy stretches of the ski season, including Presidents Day weekend and spring break weeks in March, are approaching. The police have said there is a possibility of more cases as the crowds arrive later in the ski season.
The cases have generally involved someone who posts an online lodging listing asking a person who is interested in a rental to wire money to a bank. When the person arrives at the place they believe they rented, they find that it is not in the rental pool.
Beerman said the Treasure Mountain Inn typically books rooms directly with the people who will be staying there. He said the inn also uses online firms like Travelocity, Orbitz and Expedia.
In an effort to avoid scams, Beerman suggests people book places to stay directly with a lodging property or use a licensed property-management firm. He also said using online firms like Travelocity is advisable.
Others, including the Police Department, have provided similar suggestions as the scam reports mounted. The Park City Chamber/Bureau offers an online feature allowing people to book lodging. Anyone listed by the Chamber/Bureau must be a member of the organization, something that requires a business license.
Mayor Dana Williams said the elected officials have not been briefed on the fraud cases. He said perhaps the Police Department, the Chamber/Bureau and the lodging industry could launch an awareness campaign. Williams said the cases remain "relatively isolated."
The Park City Council on Thursday briefly touched on lodging issues in an unscheduled discussion. The elected officials mentioned topics like the online issues as well as health and safety regulations.
City Councilwoman Cindy Matsumoto said in an interview afterward a meeting was held earlier in the week about lodging that involved herself, City Councilwoman Liza Simpson, the Park City Chamber/Bureau, the Police Department and the Park City Area Lodging Association.
Matsumoto said fraud was not the emphasis of the meeting, but the topic was mentioned.
"There’s just a lot of people who don’t have business licenses, don’t get inspections," she said, adding that some also do not pay the taxes they are required to when renting places on a short-term basis.
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Park City enacted a ban on fireworks, open flames and burning on Wednesday, a step that was anticipated as Park City continues to suffer through sweltering temperatures and a lengthy stretch of dry weather. It had seemed highly likely that City Hall would implement the measures.