Shelley Bridgeman 's Opinion

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Beware of hotel scams

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Have you ever been victim of a hotel scam?Photo / Thinkstock
Have you ever been victim of a hotel scam?Photo / Thinkstock

Judging from the response to What's your hotel room peeve?, a lot of us are highly interested in hotels and hold very firm opinions about the services they provide. We frown variously on substandard linen, noisy neighbours and air-conditioning units, hard mattresses, insect infestations, poor lighting, inconveniently positioned power points, freeze-dried coffee, UHT milk, expensive Wi-Fi and dirty bedspreads.

Perhaps this high level of expectation and degree of engagement with hotels stems from the fact that we have quite an intimate relationship with them. Since we sleep there, eat there and bathe there, we can't help but connect with them on a personal level. So we're quick to interpret any failings as a slight against us.

But beyond the petty complaints lies a suite of more sinister problems associated with hotels. Complications can arise for the unwitting and unwary. And guests are not the only victims of scammers; sometimes hotel staff members are fooled by unscrupulous tricksters, too.

Key card scam

I once watched a television programme that detailed a tidy way of robbing a hotel guest's room. I hope I've remembered the sequence correctly. The scammers, a well dressed couple, sit in the lobby of a hotel. The woman dials a room number, pretending to be a hotel receptionist and advises that a maintenance worker will be visiting soon to check some wiring in the room.

The man then changes into overalls in the bathroom, heads up to the room concerned, gains admittance then tells the guest the lights need to be briefly turned off. The scammer removes the key card slotted in to provide power to the room and while the lights are out he replaces it with a dummy card. After performing his bogus check, he leaves with the guest's key card in his possession, changes back into a suit and the pair of scammers wait in the lobby until they see the guest leave the hotel. They then use the key card to enter the room and steal any valuables.

It's quite a clever scheme but unsuited to duping me. Firstly, I routinely unplug the telephones on arrival for the duration of my stay and, secondly, whenever I have been contacted by a hotel (or was it a scammer?) wanting to do room maintenance I've requested that it is delayed until after I have checked out. However I reckon this scam would have a high success rate with guests more easygoing and compliant than myself.

Champagne taste on a homeless budget

ABC reported that for two years a transient man in Orlando, Florida, regularly spent nights in some fine hotels including the Ritz Carlton. He "would identify hotel guests who were checking out of posh hotels, gain access to their rooms and extend their stays" by calling the front desk from the room. Then "he'd ask for more room keys to be sent up, allowing him to charge room service, bar tabs, shopping sprees and even restaurant bills to the former occupant's credit card on file." The offender was arrested at an upscale hotel.

Classic hotel scams

Common ways of scamming hotel guests are covered at scam.com. They include: the parking valet scam (hand over the keys to your car at your peril), the beach-front scam (in which your supposedly seaside hotel overlooks a motorway); the "getting walked" scam (in which staff at the hotel you have booked at try to persuade you to stay at an inferior property instead) and the front-desk scam (in which a scammer calls your room and requests your credit card details).

Jack Reacher's hotel scam

The book Reacher's Rules: Life Lessons from Jack Reacher offers dubious advice on how to sleep in a $350-a-night hotel room for $50. The steps are: Start late, around midnight; ask the night clerk for an available room; tell him you need to check it out; get him to come with you; once you're in it, offer him two twenties; and ten for the maid; he's happy; you've got a cheap room for the night. Frankly, I'd have expected more integrity from Lee Child's fictional hero but I guess his reputation was shot, anyway, the moment 170-cm Tom Cruise controversially stepped up to play the movie version of the 196-cm tall Reacher.

Have you ever been the victim of a hotel scam? Do you have any advice as to how to avoid being duped by one?

Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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