5 On Your Side

Hang up the phone: Hotel scam targets groggy guests

Posted November 26, 2013

— 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.

Randall Kerr Hotel scam targets groggy guests

“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.

17 Comments

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  • JustOneGodLessThanU Dec 4, 2013

    Yes, my name is Ivana Tinkle and my card # is 5411 1111 1111 1111.

    Yes, I know it seems strange, and don't make fun of my name, but that's the truth, Mr. Scammer...ummm...I mean Mr. Manager.

    (name credit goes to Bart Simpson)

  • htomc42 Dec 3, 2013

    So, can someone please tell me why the NSA, which spends billions spying on us, can't use that information to throw these criminal scammers into prison where they belong?

  • Tug Boat II Nov 27, 2013

    Thank you Lynda for exposing this scam, I had never heard of this one before. I hope this article educates everyone to be careful with their personnel data. Never let your guard down, even when traveling.

  • anon022 Nov 27, 2013

    I hate these phone scammers. I've had to change my number not too long ago from the amount of random phone calls I was getting saying that I had been approved for this amount of dollars, I just needed to go put $200 on a greendot card and then they would deposit $2000 in my bank account. Yeah, right. I've also gotten the phone calls promising that I had won a trip on a cruise but same thing, I had to put x amount of dollars on a card for them. Luckily I know better but I feel bad for those who do fall for these types of scams.

  • eb2cents Nov 27, 2013

    I received a phone call before 7am a few Saturdays ago. The foreigner said he was calling from the IRS and needed me to call another number to speak to a specific person. I was so asleep, I took the number down, but before I dialed it, I began to think: does the IRS have foreign contractors for this type of thing? Also, do they open before 8 or 9am in the morning AND do they work on the weekends? Not to mention, the guy was extremely rude to me when I asked why he was calling so early and was he sure he was calling the right person. Very strange...

  • busyb97 Nov 27, 2013

    Catching these guys is tough....I would wager too often, they aren't even IN this country, so even if you did trace it to them, you couldn't do a thing.

    it's good to know that at least some hotels have that policy in place- but obviously, it's only as good as the guy answering the phone that night!

  • Hill55 Nov 27, 2013

    i have been working from home the past few weeks. the phone calls throughout the day are prolific. Just yesterday, i rec'd a call to renew a magazine subscription. The price was higher that I recalled, so I told them I would think about it. they have now called several times. this didn't seem legit, so I called the magazine and lo and behold, it wasn't the magazine, and the magazine dept doesn't even have my phone number. so HOW did this scammer know the ONE magazine subscription that I have is up for renewal? Dumpster divers, the postman, who?

    be CAREFUL with your information.

  • Workingrepublican Nov 27, 2013

    This is how you correct the problem. The first offense they loose a hand...the second offense the loose the other hand....Third offense execute them....If they don't stop after the 1st or 2nd offense they will never stop....so what positive role do they play in society...none..get rid of them.

  • anti-Hans Nov 27, 2013

    If the manager calls me, as troubling as it is, I would walk down to the desk to straighten it out. And at 2 AM, it is something that could probably wait until the normal morning when people are awake.

  • lizzz38 Nov 27, 2013

    Scary.

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