Press-Republican

March 26, 2013

Guests scammed at Plattsburgh hotel

SUZANNE MOORE
Press-Republican

PLATTSBURGH — Guests at a local hotel fell victim to a phone scam earlier this month.

A person staying at the hostelry, which was not named by State Police, called authorities after noticing fraudulent charges on a credit card.

Trooper Christopher Guynup responded to the March 9 call, and while talking to the victim and hotel staff, he found several other guests had discovered their cards had also been used to make unauthorized purchases.

“Investigation revealed that, on March 8 and 9, someone made a series of calls to the hotel front desk and to each room in the hotel in an attempt to gather information regarding the names of the hotel employees and the hotel guests,” a State Police press release said. 

Then, police said, the scammer called guest rooms directly, pretending to be a front-desk employee. 

Calling the guests by name, he would tell them the hotel’s computer system was down and the credit-card information had been lost. 

The scammer asked the guests to confirm the type of credit card they used to check in. 

“Several victims told police that the caller had known the type of credit card they had used to pay for the room, as well as the first digit of the credit-card number,” police said. 

And some guests had trustingly given the complete number.

‘VERY CONVINCING’

Police said they don’t yet know how the scammer had known what kind of cards had been used, but they say the person used common account-numbering practices employed by all major credit-card companies to figure out the first digit of the victims’ cards.

In plain English, said Kevin Rock, manager of Comfort Inn & Suites in Plattsburgh, Visa cards all start with a 4 and Master Card uses a 5.

And because those are the kind of credit cards used most, it follows that a guess by a scammer is often going to be correct. 

As well, he said, “the scam people are very convincing.”

This particular scam is one that Choice Hotels, the holding company for Comfort Inn, has warned them about, among others, Rock said.

“There are multiple scam alerts throughout the year.”

Hotel guests should be suspicious if the front desk ever asks for sensitive information via phone, he continued.

One reason for that, he said, is “the credit-card companies want the card swiped.”

AUTO ANSWERING

Rock said Comfort Inn does provide some protection against phone scammers, as “we answer our own phones.”

That means all calls are screened at the front desk, with employees asking the caller to confirm the guest’s name.

“If it’s a scam, they will normally hang right up,” he said.

Some hotels have auto answering, which means a caller can just punch in a room number and be transferred to that phone.

State Police said scams similar to the one in Plattsburgh have taken place at hotels across the country, targeting several chains.

The local case remained under investigation.

Police warn people to be cautious if callers request their credit-card, bank-account numbers or personal passwords. 

When possible, conduct credit or debit transactions in person, the release said.

As well, it’s a good idea to check a caller’s identity by calling the publicly listing telephone number of the company represented by the person on the phone.

Email Suzanne Moore:smoore@pressrepublican.com