Reports of scam artists in Park City nearly double |

Reports of scam artists in Park City nearly double

by Jay Hamburger OF THE RECORD STAFF

The Park City Police Department in 2008 received an average of nearly two fraud complaints each week, the department said in its annual crime report, a staggering number when compared to the figures recorded in previous years.

According to the report, the department last year received 90 complaints of fraudulent activity. In the previous year, the number was 46.

The 90 reports in 2008 resulted in six arrests, the police said. In another 11 of the cases, the police determined criminal activity had occurred, but charges were not pursued or prosecutors declined to file charges.

"I’m disappointed people are committing criminal acts that are hurting more than one individual," said Summit County Attorney David Brickey, whose office screens cases from the Police Department for prosecution.

The file remains open on 17 of the 2008 cases. Another 25 cases have been deemed inactive, meaning that the police have stopped investigating and are hoping for new information or evidence. The police handed over 13 of the cases to other agencies.

The fraud complaints represented 8.6 percent of the major crimes reported to the Police Department, trailing only thefts and criminal-mischief cases as a percentage of the major-crime reports.

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In the past decade, the number of fraud reports had never topped the 54 reported in 2003. The number of complaints had been as low as 10, tallied in 1999. The Police Department generally assigns fraud complaints to two detectives.

Rick Ryan, the captain who oversees the Police Department’s detectives, said people who filed the fraud reports made varying accusations. Some of the cases involved disputes about rentals and others entailed allegations about bad checks and nefarious online offers. The majority of fraud cases are resolved by the parties involved without charges being filed, Ryan said.

He said the cases in 2008 did not include complaints about two property-management companies that have since become embroiled in disputes with their clients. Those complaints will be tallied when the 2009 report is issued next year. Ryan said the police have received seven or eight complaints about the companies so far.

Ryan said the cases last year included reports from people who claimed they had made housing arrangements inside Park City from elsewhere. They provided deposits for the housing, but were not provided a place to stay when they arrived, he said. Some of the victims used the Internet to make the contacts with people who later reportedly defrauded them, according to Ryan.

"It’s difficult because these individuals, the suspects, move around a lot," Ryan said, adding that the Internet "puts thousands of bad guys out there ripping off thousands of good guys."

Victims included people from South America and Europe, two continents that are heavily represented in Park City’s wintertime work force. Ryan said he could not recall a similar case with an American victim.

In late 2008, the Police Department acknowledged separate investigations into suspected housing scams that targeted approximately 15 South Americans who planned to work in Park City during the ski season. In those cases, the two sets of victims told the police they had wired a combined $6,500 to people for housing in Park City. The housing, though, was not provided when they arrived.

The county attorney said it is "small satisfaction" when he is able to prosecute somebody on fraud charges. Brickey said it is disappointing that the victim cannot always recoup the money they lost in a fraud case. The cases are "frustrating for everyone," he said, and investigations can sometimes stretch for more than a year.

"When we catch them, they don’t get away with it," Brickey said.