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Police warn vacationers about rental scams in Park City

Published January 12, 2013 2:35 pm

Crime • Victims fall prey to rental scams posted on Craigslist.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Since the start of the season, up to 10 people who planned ski trips to Park City have ended up disappointed when they arrived.

They have been the victims of fraud involving vacation rentals, according to the Park City Police Department. It is a rare for there to be such a concentration of cases in Park City, and the department is warning people to be cautious as they book and pay for accommodations.

Detective Mary Ford said the schemes have been similar, and start with Craigslist postings that include pictures of nice-looking properties and offer them for rent at low prices. They are "too good to be true," Ford said.

Once the person who posted on the popular advertising website is contacted by an interested renter, he or she eventually requests that money be wired to a bank, typically located outside Utah, she said. Some have been in Texas.

"They're usually told show up at the house; they'll be somebody there," Ford said.

The victims arrive, find someone lives there and learn that the place is not for rent, she said. The renters have then contacted police.

Disappointed renters have lost between approximately $900 and $1,200, and have had to make other arrangements for lodging, according to Ford. The cases included houses and condominiums, mostly in Old Town, she said.

Ford said the department lacks the jurisdiction to pursue the cases because the transactions occur outside the city. Park City police refer visitors to law enforcement agencies where they live and where the bank that received the money wire is located.

In December, a Georgia man told police he had arranged to rent a condominium on Woodside Avenue after seeing it advertised on Craigslist. He wired a deposit of $800 to a bank in Texas, police said. When he arrived in Park City, he discovered the owner of the condominium lived there and it was not for rent.

Ford recommends people find lodging in Park City through a property-management company and with agencies that have someone available in person. She also said victims of fraud on Craigslist should contact the site.

She anticipates more fraud complaints from people during January's Sundance Film Festival, a busy time for rentals in Park City, and at popular times for visits in later months, such as Presidents Day weekend and spring break.

The Park City Chamber/Bureau said it had not received a complaint about lodging scams during the ski season. Bill Malone, its president and CEO, said he has heard of fraudulent cases online.

The Chamber/Bureau website offers a feature allowing people to book lodging. Malone said anyone advertising rentals on the site must be a Chamber/Bureau member, which requires a business license. He also suggested people use property-management companies to book lodging.

"The only thing we can say is people need to use their head and do business with legitimate businesses," Malone said.