Hang up the phone: Hotel scam targets groggy guests
Posted November 26, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — When the phone rang in her Greensboro hotel room at 2:30 in the morning, Lynda Loveland first thought about her young children sleeping nearby. Please don’t let the loud ringing wake them, she thought as she jumped to answer the room phone.
The caller identified himself as the hotel manager and apologized as he explained that he needed to get some information from her.
"He said his name, he was very nice, used ma'am, was polite and said, 'I'm so sorry, but we're having computer problems,'" Loveland recalled. "(He said), 'We just need to figure out who is in every room for insurance purposes.'"
The man was so nice and his story so believable, Loveland says, that she nearly became the victim of a scam.
The Better Business Bureau says telephone phishing scammers, like the one who targeted Loveland and her family, pose as hotel employees and call different rooms, trying to get sleepy customers’ credit card numbers in the middle of the night.
Loveland, a radio host on Mix 101.5 and former WRAL-TV anchor, says she almost fell for the scam. As she began answering the man’s questions on the phone, her husband overheard the conversation and intervened.
“She gives out my name and how many people were staying in the room, and our home address, and about that time I was like, ‘Umm, something’s not right here,’” said her husband, Randall Kerr, who works as WRAL Investigates’ executive producer. “I kept saying, ‘Lynda, just hang up the phone.’”
The caller asked Loveland when she and her family would be checking out and offered a 20 percent discount for the inconvenience.
“Then I heard (Lynda) say something like, ‘How’d (I) pay? Credit card,’” Kerr said. “And at that point, I just said, ‘Let’s hang up the phone.'"
While Loveland ended the call before the scammer could get her credit card number, not every hotel guest is that lucky.
The BBB says scammers often call hotels and ask for random room numbers. When the groggy guest answers, the imposter hotel employee asks to check the last four numbers of the guest’s credit card. When the guest says the numbers are wrong, the caller asks for all 16 digits and the spelling of the name on the card.
“You know, my first thought wasn’t credit card fraud or anything like that,” Kerr said of his experience. “I was thinking, ‘Well, now someone knows that we’re out of town, knows our home address, knows that we’re not going to be back for a couple days.’ My first thought was, ‘Someone’s going to break into the house.’”
Kerr went to the hotel's front desk and asked if they were having computer problems. "No, everything's fine here," he recalled the clerk telling him. "She said, 'Yeah, someone just called and asked to be transferred to room 204."
Kerr quickly called police and asked them to check on his house and his mother-in-law who was staying there. He then got in his car and started driving home.
“We were all scared. We didn’t know what was happening,” he said. "We just knew someone was trying to take advantage of us."
After getting word that his mother-in-law and house were OK, Kerr got online and found hotel scam stories similar to his.
“It’s a brilliant little scam, but pretty dangerous for people out there,” he said.
“You can hear about scams all day long, but until you’re in that situation, you don’t realize how you can almost be taken by them,” Loveland added.
Experts say hotel guests should never give out personal information over the phone, especially credit card information. If a person calls saying he or she is a hotel employee and needs your information, hang up the phone and walk down to the front desk.