Eagle County, don’t get scammed | VailDaily.com

Eagle County, don’t get scammed

Lauren Glendenning

Sometimes when something seems too good to be true, people go against their better judgment and fall for it.

That’s exactly why scams exist, and why they succeed. And while you think you’d never fall for one, you’d be surprised.

That’s what happened to local chef Thomas Jefferson Newsted. He sent $60,000 “$50,000 of which Avon Police say he stole from his Avon employer ” to a foreign lottery scam in March. He was promised $1.5 million in return, but that didn’t happen.

While he says he fell victim to a scam, he also went to extreme measures because the dollar signs he saw destroyed his judgment, he says.

“For some reason, I was distorted,” Newsted says. “You wish you would have thought things out (in hindsight).”

While Newsted’s case is atypical ” most people are aware of these kinds of Internet scams, says Detective Sgt. Craig Bettis of the Vail Police Department ” there are plenty of other scams going on in Eagle County that people should look out for.

In Vail, lift operators are constantly on the lookout for people trying to fool the system. Vail Resorts gives money to its employees when they catch fraudulent ski pass users ” Vail police issued summonses to 85 people as of April 7.

“Deceptive use of ski facilities is the number one scam we deal with,” Bettis says. “You’re basically stealing that service from the town of Vail. We take it very seriously.”

Jen Brown, a Vail Resorts spokeswoman, says the company and the town have identified more cases of ski pass fraud ” typically when someone either tries to use another’s season pass, or when people purchase a single ticket and use it for more than one person ” in recent years. She attributes that to the company’s “more vigilant employee enforcement,” she said via e-mail.

The enforcement includes larger photos on season passes, which helps ticket scanners match photos and faces, and other security and training for employees the company would not discuss.

As for the town, Bettis says Internet fraud is ranking pretty high among common scams, especially because everybody seems to be online these days. It’s harder for local police to prosecute Internet crimes, though, says Doug Winters, a detective with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office.

“There’s usually not a whole lot we can do, since it’s out of our jurisdiction,” he says.

In addition to the foreign lottery scams like the one Newsted fell for, Bettis says a common scam last year dealt with banking information on the Web. People would get an e-mail warning them there might have been a security breach online with their banking information and the e-mail would redirect them to a “very legitimate-looking Web page,” Bettis says.

Then it would ask people to reenter their personal and banking information, and within seconds your identity would be stolen.

“Don’t give out any information without confirming it,” Bettis says. “If you receive something in the mail or on the Internet, there should always be a phone number attached where you should call and confirm.”

Winters saw a different kind of Internet scam recently, one that was slightly scarier. He says real estate agents throughout the valley received life threatening e-mail messages about six months ago. The e-mail said a hired hit man was having second thoughts, and for $3,000, he would walk away from the assignment.

“When we traced the IP addresses, it came back that it was from overseas,” Winters says.

And just like Newsted’s scam that came from out of the country, so did a scam that the owners of Alaska Fur Gallery in Vail Village uncovered. They didn’t fall for it though, because they could just tell something wasn’t right.

After placing an ad in the paper for two apartments for rent, a couple of women saying they were from Argentina responded, says Malena Hausinger, a co-owner of the gallery. The women said their church was sponsoring them to come to America, and that they’d send a check for the apartment for about $1,200 more than the asking price. They wanted Hausinger and co-owner Manual Hernandez to send them a check for the difference so they could purchase their plane tickets to America.

“The cashier’s checks looked good; they were drawn on a known bank and everything,” Hausinger says. “We called the bank to make sure they were good checks, and the bank said the checks weren’t good.”

Hernandez says he just followed his instinct. The whole story “seemed a little weird.” He says all it took was a few phone calls to try to speak to the person who signed the check, just has he had done a few weeks earlier when someone tried to buy a $19,000 fur coat over the phone with a stolen credit card.

Follow up on everything and you won’t be a victim, Hernandez says.

Newsted, the chef who was scammed, didn’t take those few extra steps to verify whom he’d be sending money to in South Africa, and that decision has changed his life. He says he just thought it would be “an easy process and I just had to follow some rules and guidelines.”

“It’s destroyed my career and has caused me to change my life entirely,” Newsted says. “I don’t wish this upon anybody. I’m definitely shameful.”

Lauren Glendenning can be reached for comment at Lglendenning@vailtrail.com.

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