Post Your Problems/Lawrence Walsh: Beware of late calls in hotels

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David Simpson was sound asleep when the phone rang in his room at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites in Mansfield, Ohio.

The caller said he was the district manager and apologized for awakening Mr. Simpson in the middle of the night. He said the hotel's computers had crashed and that he needed to re-enter all of the guest information.

"He wanted me to give him my name, address and credit card information," Mr. Simpson said. In exchange, the caller offered a 35 percent rebate on his room and free nights at the hotel "for the inconvenience."

Mr. Simpson, 51, a physicist from Laurel, Md., told the man he would go down to the lobby and take care of it.

That wasn't necessary, the caller said. He said he had 16 people in the lobby to talk to, used "a bit of profanity" to emphasize his problem and added, "I really have to get this taken care of tonight."

Mr. Simpson was faced with providing the requested information over the phone or getting dressed and joining the "group" in the lobby.

He opted for the latter and saved himself a big problem.

No group was in the lobby. The only one around was the night auditor at the front desk. There had been no computer crash and there was no reason for Mr. Simpson to provide any information.

"It was a scam," he said.

"Apparently people are now calling random rooms at random hotels late at night trying to steal credit card information," he said. That's exactly what his caller was trying to do.

Although hotel employees are not supposed to transfer a call to a room unless the caller provides the name of the person staying in that room, they sometimes do.

And that's what happened to Mr. Simpson. The caller asked for Room 308, didn't provide a name and the auditor put the call through.

Mr. Simpson had driven eight hours to attend the 50th wedding anniversary celebration of an aunt and uncle the following day.

"You get a late-night call like that and the first thing you think is that there's an emergency of some kind or someone's in big trouble," he said. "I was kind of in a fog when I answered the phone.

"This guy tried to establish some credibility by identifying himself as the district manager, apologizing for the call and asking for my help," he said.

Mr. Simpson said he told the night auditor about the call and asked whether anyone else had come to the lobby for the same reason. No one had.

"I spoke to a woman at the front desk later that morning who told me she had been warned about such a scam," he said. Apparently that warning hadn't been relayed to the night auditor who had forwarded the crook's call.

To protect themselves from such scams, consumers should tell the front desk not to transfer calls unless the callers asks for the occupant by name and room number.

Do not give personal or credit card information to callers.

If you receive such a call, hang up and call the front desk to see if there is a reason to come to the lobby.

Christina Mansfield, general manager of the Holiday Inn Hotel & Suites in Mansfield, said outside calls are not to be transferred to rooms unless callers provide the name of the guest.

"The night auditor made a mistake [in forwarding the call to Mr. Simpson's room]," Ms. Smith said. "She was reprimanded for doing so and it will not happen again."

My thanks to Terry and Joey Kennedy of Squirrel Hill, longtime friends of Mr. Simpson, for forwarding his email about this scam.

"I thought you'd like to know about this," she said.

I did.

yourbiz - larrywalsh

Lawrence Walsh: 412-263-1895. Please include your day, evening and/or cell phone number(s). Due to volume, he cannot respond to every email or phone call.


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