Ski chalet firm warns travellers to be alert to FAKE websites after customer is conned out of £135k 

The director of a luxury ski chalet company has revealed how scammers running fake websites are duping unwary winter sports enthusiasts out of thousands of pounds.

Ceri Tinley, Managing Director of Consensio, which operates opulent chalets and self-catered apartments in the French and Swiss Alps, revealed that one customer was conned out of £135,000 ($164,000) after being fooled by a bogus website. Instead of sending the money to Consensio for one of its Val-d’Isere properties, they sent the eye-watering amount to criminals.

Tinley also revealed how one family arrived at a Consensio chalet in Val-d’Isere, thinking they’d booked it for a Christmas getaway. But they too had been duped.

Tinley said: ‘A lady literally knocked on the door and said, “My husband is just parking the car.” But the real guests had already arrived.’

The director of a luxury ski chalet company has revealed how scammers running fake websites are duping unwary winter sports enthusiasts out of thousands of pounds

Luckily, with Consensio’s help, they found alternative accommodation in the village. 

So exactly how are travellers being caught out?

Firstly, because the scam sites are very professional looking – and use pictures of real luxury chalets, often with descriptions and terms and conditions ripped from bona fide websites.

Scammers love bank transfers. The money goes straight from your account to theirs and then they take it straight out and disappear

And the correspondence they send in reply to enquiries is polite, efficient and helpful.

Plus they carry an https encryption stamp in their urls. Many see this as a sign that a site is above board, but that just means, in many cases, that information sent to that site is encrypted, not that the site is trustworthy.

The scammers usually steal the money by demanding payment is made by a direct bank transfer.

The reason scammers love bank transfers is partly because setting up credit card systems requires approval from card providers, but also because the money simply arrives in their account faster.

By the time that the site is rumbled and it’s apparent a scam has been inflicted on someone, the money is long gone.

As a Barclays spokesperson told MailOnline Travel: ‘Scammers love bank transfers. The money goes straight from your account to theirs and then they take it straight out and disappear.’

The money is often syphoned out within minutes, according to Barclays, leaving the banks powerless to retrieve it.

So, alarm bells should ring if a site won’t accept credit card payments.

One of Consensio’s luxury properties – Chalet Le Namaste in Courchevel

Kevin Pratt, consumer affairs expert at MoneySuperMarket, said: ‘If a ski chalet operator insists you pay by bank transfer rather than a credit card, that should set off alarm bells. A trader or merchant has to be approved by card providers before it can accept plastic card payments, so if it aggressively refuses to take plastic, you might want to question why. Is it actually a legitimate business?

‘If you pay by credit card, you have the protection of Section 75 of the 1974 Consumer Credit Act. This means that, if your chalet bill is between £100 and £30,000, you can claim against the card provider if you are ripped off.’

Other warning signs include suspiciously low prices, duplicated photographs and images of chalets appearing on multiple sites but with different names.

Tinley added: ‘If it’s too good to be true – it probably is. If a chalet is 25 per cent cheaper than the average price there’s something wrong.

‘Don’t ever pay into a personal bank account if the company you’re trying to book through purports to be a business. That’s a massive red flag.

Luxury: Consensio’s Shemshak Lodge in Courchevel 1850

‘And if they ask for crypto payments – it’s likely to be dodgy.

‘Also, check whether the company is registered with Atol or Iata – though this is only relevant if they’re offering packages. So if a site isn’t registered with those organisations, it doesn’t mean it’s dodgy.

‘If it’s not a Saturday or Sunday changeover, that’s a massive red flag too.

‘Most companies, for example, wouldn’t accept a Friday to Friday booking, as that’s splitting two weeks. But the scammers are faking it, so they don’t care.

‘And if you suddenly find a great chalet that’s available in a school holiday at short notice – that’s another red flag.’ 

Fake websites can be reported to France’s Ministry of the Interior and Overseas here and to the UK’s Action Fraud. The genuine Consensio website is www.consensiochalets.co.uk.  



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