Criminals Exploit Pandemic To Con Skiers

One fraudster has been posing as a ski chalet owner, offering his property to rent at a bargain price over Christmas due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The chalet is advertised on a website under a false name.

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You might think it not worth the effort this winter, with so few skiers and snowboarders able to book holidays.

But the criminals are as active as ever.

The annual chalet scams are up and running with the aim of conning unwitting holidaymakers out of many thousands of pounds.

We’ve always said that if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.

But one fraudster, has cleverly used the pandemic to his advantage.

He’s come up with a plausible explanation for potential customers who question why his chalet in Val d’Isere in the French Alps is available to rent at a knockdown price.

It’s because there are currently no lifts operating and because he and his family are unable to travel to stay there themselves.

Perfectly reasonable.

There’s just one problem.

He doesn’t own the chalet in question.

“Chalet Rochelle” is, in fact, “Chalet Lhotse”, operated by the UK-based luxury chalet and apartments company, Consensio.

Consensio Chalet Lhotse, Val d’Isere

It has operated the chalet exclusively for almost a decade.  It also sells through agents, including the Oxford Ski Company.

PlanetSKI has seen a chain of emails between a potential client and someone calling himself Ian Smithers and claiming to be the owner of “Chalet Rochelle”.

The email exchanges are friendly and chatty.  They even discuss each other’s dogs.

There is absolutely nothing to suggest dodgy dealing.

The woman wishing to book, who we are not identifying, is an American working in Paris and unable to travel back to the USA for Christmas.

“Ian Smithers” quotes her a total price of  €4,500 or £4,000 for a one-week stay from Christmas Eve at the six-bedroomed chalet, complete with its own indoor pool, spa, gym and outdoor hot tub.

That’s about seven times cheaper than the actual cost of renting Chalet Lhotse.

He even offers a Covid guarantee of a full refund up to the day of check-in.

“We have only just made the property available for the Christmas/New Year period as it has become
increasingly apparent that we will not be able to spend Christmas at the chalet as in previous years due to travel restrictions from the UK & US where our family are split across,” he says.

When the woman’s husband finds the chalet listed elsewhere as Chalet Lhotse, she writes back questioning why he’s offering it so cheaply and under a different name.

“I understand the concerns. Chalet L’hotse was the previous name of the chalet – more guests know it by that name so a few agencies have stuck with it. Regarding the price difference, with the skiing closed we can’t justify what we have charged in previous years,” he answers.

The woman is still unsure and asks if he has any photos that are not on the Chalet Rochelle website.

He replies with a photo he says is of his family inside the chalet.  We are not sharing it as we have no way of knowing who the individuals are or where the photo comes from.

The Oxford Ski Company and Consensio have reported the scam to the relevant authorities, including to a website set up by the French Interior Ministry to report fraud.

Photo on the ‘Chalet Rochelle’ website

“We are concerned as always about fraudulent websites, but this one in particular is worrying because it is for a single chalet and by the clever responses of the ‘owner’ who is using the pandemic as a reason for why the pricing is so low,” Ceri Tinley, Managing Director of Consensio Chalets told PlanetSKI.

“We would like to highlight this for all clients looking to book a property, who should be aware that these scams are getting more and more sophisticated.

“We feel powerless as there is very little we can do other than warn clients to be on their guard.”

We understand that at least four customers have fallen for the scam and paid money into the fraudster’s bank account.

We have reported extensively on the problem here on PlanetSKI, including carrying out a major investigation into fake chalet websites and social media accounts in 2017:

As mentioned in our earlier articles (see the links above), money paid by direct bank transfer is equivalent to cash.

It is almost impossible to get it back.

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