SCAM CHALET WEBSITES ALERT
11th October 2017 | Jane Peel, Chief Reporter
Last modified on June 2nd, 2020
Skiers & snowboarders are being warned to be on the lookout for fake ski chalet websites selling non-existent holidays. PlanetSKI investigates.
At least three websites which have only recently been registered are advertising properties that are run by respected chalet operators, using photographs lifted from the genuine companies’ sites.
- PlanetSKI has spoken to one customer who recently paid in full for a three-night stay in Saas Fee over Christmas. She has lost all her money.
- We have since been offered the same chalet over the same Christmas period by the fake company. A genuine travel agent confirms it’s been fully booked for weeks.
- We have spoken to a director of a luxury chalet company who contacted the same website by email posing as a potential customer. The fake company tried to sell him a stay at one of his own chalets.
Scam websites spring up every year, but the travel association body ABTA says the problem is growing.
“They’re generally cheaper and they don’t have credit card facilities,” ABTA’s Sean Tipton told PlanetSKI.
“You are asked to pay by bank transfer and the problem is that you are just handing over cash to a crook and it’s impossible to get that money back.”
The scams are elaborate.
One of the websites has set up a professional-looking Facebook page and is using the Google Adwords service to get its website to the top of Google searches.
Chalet operators and travel agents say there is little they can do to get the websites taken down as they’re nearly always registered outside the UK.
- The three we have seen are registered in Panama, France and the USA.
- One was established in June this year, the other two as recently as 9th and 13th September.
- We have investigated two of them – Premium Swiss Chalets and Rich Huts.
PREMIUM SWISS CHALETS
This company – website https://premiumswisschalets.com – has set up a Facebook page which at time of writing had acquired more than 9,000 likes.
Its first post was on 11th September this year and as we began writing this article it had been shared more than 1,300 times.
A Facebook advert for the Premium Swiss Chalets popped up on the Facebook page of Daleen who was looking for a short ski trip for her family of four.
Daleen, who asked us to withhold her full name, enquired about booking Chalet Stirling in Saas Fee in Switzerland.
She spoke on the ‘phone to a woman calling herself Anna Brice and later communicated with her by email.
PlanetSKI has seen the correspondence.
In late September Daleen agreed to book for three nights for CHF 1,895 (apx £1,470) from 23rd December.
She was sent an invoice, giving instructions to pay the full amount due by bank transfer to an account based in Riga, Latvia.
Daleen paid up but was concerned when she received no confirmation of the payment.
“I just went with the instructions on the invoice,” she told us.
“I thought why the hell is it (the bank) in Riga and why not in England or Switzerland and was about to call and ask.
“That’s what wakes me up at night. Why didn’t I follow through?”
After failing to get a reply by email and discovering that she could no longer get through to the company’s Swiss telephone number, Daleen did an internet search for Chalet Stirling.
She found it on the Ski In Luxury website.
She called them to ask about her booking only to be told by the MD Andy Castle that she didn’t have one.
“Last year there were 12 of these sites I picked up on,” Andy Castle told PlanetSKI.
He wrote a blog about the problem last December, identifying the warning signs to look out for.
“The authorities are not acting. The owner of the chalet has contacted the Swiss police,” he said.
Daleen has also reported the fraud to the police in Switzerland where she lives.
It’s not clear what can be done to stop the scam.
Premium Swiss Chalets’ bank account is in Latvia and the “how to find us” link on their website takes you to a map of a location in the capital, Riga.
Their website is registered in Arizona, USA.
PlanetSKI decided to check out Premium Swiss Chalets ourselves.
We tried calling the Swiss telephone number – which had a British ringtone – but got no answer.
We sent an email, asking if we could book Chalet Stirling – the one “booked” by Daleen.
We picked the Christmas week – 23rd to 30th December to overlap with the three nights already “booked” by Daleen.
The email reply – which came within minutes – said:
Here’s what we can offer:
Stirling Luxury Chalet
December 23 – December 30
Total price: 6,300 CHF (without catering CHF 4,900)
We emailed them, asking for an explanation. Not surprisingly, we have not had a response.
Lewis McKay, the Sales and Marketing Director of Le Chardon Mountain Lodges discovered his luxury chalets in Val d’Isere being advertised on Premium Swiss Chalets’ Facebook page.
Posing as a client, he enquired about hiring Chalet Kilimanjaro for a week from Friday 12th January 2018.
He was given a price of €8,800 for full chalet board with a Michelin starred chef.
Le Chardon Mountain Lodges does not accept payment in Euros and only offers Sunday to Sunday bookings.
If it were available – which it isn’t – the cost for a week at Kilimanjaro at that time of year would be £17,500.
When Lewis McKay pointed out that they were acting illegally, he got this response by email from Anna Brice:
- There is nothing illegal until you’d have paid money, so chill out, my friend! No one has been ripped off!
Joanne Healy looks after sales for The Elysian Collection, which has three luxury chalets in Zermatt, Switzerland.
Its Chalet Les Anges appears on Premium Swiss Chalets’ website.
The photos are the same as those on The Elysian Collection site, but the prices are much lower.
Premium Swiss Chalets shows Les Anges as available for a week from 21st January 2018 for around CHF 25,000.
The real price on the Elysian Collection website is CHF 60,000.
“I don’t know what we can do,” Joanne Healy of the Elysian Collection told us.
“People are so gullible. If it looks too good to be true it is.”
Another sign that the site isn’t genuine is if it’s showing surprisingly good availability.
Ceri Tinley, MD of the luxury chalet operator Consensio says the problem is now so prevalent that she’s almost given up trying to do anything about it.
Consensio’s Chalet Shemshak Lodge in Courchevel 1850 appears under a different name – Chalet Imma – on the website Rich Huts https://www.richhuts.com.
Nineteen photographs used by Rich Huts to show Imma are images of Chalet Shemshak Lodge.
The photos are identical to those on Consensio’s website.
Ceri Tinley says Rich Huts is also offering one chalet – Vivien in Val d’Isere – which is not being rented out this season as the owner has put it up for sale.
“It’s quite scary the lengths they go to,” she told us. “How do people tell whether it’s a genuine agent?”
We have checked out Rich Huts.
It claims on its website to be part of what looks like a genuine business established in 2008 in Edinburgh and listed at Companies House.
It may be an attempt to pass itself off as reputable to anyone trying to check it out.
Rich Huts’ website was registered in Panama on 13th June.
We emailed them and enquired about booking its “Chalet Imma” for a week from 26th December – a week which has already been sold.
As with Premium Swiss Chalets, the response we got came swiftly.
We think it’s worth reproducing the email in full:
We managed to get through to Julia on the phone:
- We asked to pay by credit card but were told it had to be by bank transfer.
- We asked why they required a copy of a driving licence or passport to complete the booking when we would be paying in full.
- We were told it was for ID purposes but “you can erase the photo, we don’t need that”.
- When we started to explain that we were not really interested in booking the chalet, the phone line suddenly went dead.
- We called back to find the number unobtainable.
- We emailed Julia asking for an explanation… 36 hours on we’re still waiting.
The travel association body ABTA joined forces earlier this year with the City of London Police and Get Safe Online to warn of the dangers of holiday booking fraud.
They say fraudsters stole £7.2 million from almost 6,000 unsuspecting holidaymakers in 2016.
The number of reported cases has risen almost 20 per cent year on year but ABTA believes the figures are only the tip of the iceberg as many victims do not report the fraud.
Sean Tipton of ABTA told us there are a number of ways to avoid becoming a victim but the most important thing to remember is never to pay money direct into a bank account.
“If you are dealing with a reputable company, they will have credit card facilities,” he told us.
“Shutting them down is pretty difficult. If they’re based in the UK it’s easier.”
We also recommend you read Andy Castle’s blog which has his Top 10 tips to ensure you’re not caught out.
The scammers are clever – setting themselves up in a way that makes them impossible to find and prosecute.
Their websites will generally exist only for a limited period of time.
But there are some things you should do if you have been defrauded:
- Report it to the police at Action Fraud or to the police in your country if you are outside the UK.
- Ask your bank to request the money back from the recipient’s bank (though money paid into a private bank account is treated as cash and not refundable).
- Complain to Facebook/Google or other sites if the fake company is using their services