SKI CHALET SCAMS ARE BACK
11th October 2019 | Andy Castle
Last modified on June 2nd, 2020
Fake websites selling non-existent ski holidays are up and running. This year the scams are more elaborate than ever.
With monotonous regularity, every autumn they spring up.
Flashy looking websites, some with accompanying social media accounts, promising luxurious ski chalet accommodation at decent prices.
And every year people get caught out, in some cases losing many thousands of pounds that they can never recover for a holiday that doesn’t exist.
Two years ago PlanetSKI conducted a detailed investigation into the scams.
Earlier this year the Travel Association ABTA reported that victims lost more than £7million to the fraudsters in 2018.
Now, we have asked someone in the ski accommodation business to give his take on the problem.
Andy Castle is Managing Director of Ski In Luxury and Ultimate Luxury Chalets.
He has followed the progress of the scams closely and his business has been targeted.
This is his story.
Pirates of the Ski
Every year in the build up to the winter season ahead, when ski holiday fanatics have been on their obligatory sunshine holidays and kids are back at school after their long summer break, opportunist fraudsters pounce on the growing excitement and claim their unsuspecting ski holiday victims.
Every year the same style and framework of websites appear, it seems in two varying forms, indicating that there may be two groups behind the ongoing scams.
However, each year they develop further, learning their lessons from the previous years and finely tuning their scam in order to make them more believable and seemingly “professional”.
They go to extraordinary lengths to develop a cloak to their fraudulent activities.
Past years have seen social media accounts set up with special offers shouted about by sponsored ads in order to get “chat traction” going between social users, encouraging them to share with friends, family and colleagues.
Then we have the common tactic of using Google Adwords to jump to the top of key search phrases ahead of the real, trustworthy websites who have claimed the primary positions of organic search engine rankings through their hard work and quality of website.
This year we have seen something quite astonishing.
A fraud ski website known as Crown Alps (which has now rebranded to Rich Alps and King Alps) has taken out advertising space in the form of full page promotional material in the likes of the Easyjet in-flight magazine and The Modern Family supplement in The Guardian.
Having spoken with the Easyjet team it seems that the payment for the advertisement never actually came through either.
Ski punters are seemingly not the only victims of these fraudsters now.
These “pirates of the ski” pillage not only ski holidaymakers’ money. They steal identities of both businesses and inevitably, although yet unproven, the victims of the scams.
They provide details of legitimate business operations, registered for many years on Companies House and seemingly industry related, in order to demonstrate an authenticity.
They encourage their “clients” to provide them with full address information and copies of their passports.
I can only assume that this is stored and used for other illegal activities.
Note that we would never ask for a copy of someone’s passport to finalise a rental.
They steal content from legitimate websites such as ours, changing the name of my wife and I in our About Us copy and then dropping it into their own pages.
It is always worth trying to copy a selection of the content from the About Us part of a website to see if anything else comes up in a search that could identify the true source of the copy.
If text can’t be copied from the suspected website and used in a search then likely it is a fraud anyway.
The simple advice is to not believe everything you see and hear.
Use a respected, well established agency to book your ski holidays.
Ski In Luxury has been in operation now for 14 years with a loyal customer base for very good reason.
Don’t be fooled by fraud ski websites.
Don’t become their latest victim, only to turn up with your skis ready at a chalet that you think you have booked for your ski holidays.
It has happened to far too many people already and it really needs to stop!
Authorities don’t seem to be able to find a way to catch these people, banks are all too happy to open and close accounts for them, Google Adwords more than happy to take their money and ask no questions, and now it seems the media too.
As it stands at the time of writing, the latest and current fraud ski websites to look out for are: