X Games visitors duped in Craig’s List rental scam
February 6, 2015
A group of eight Canadian residents consisting of parents of Winter X Games athletes was scammed out of nearly $5,000 when they wired money to a woman who purported to be an Aspen homeowner offering to rent her West Hallam Street residence for a week.
Two of the parents, Louise Stacey and Doug Howell, spoke with The Aspen Times on Thursday about their ordeal. Rentals for the week of the event, Jan. 19 to Jan. 26, were tough to come by in December, and they felt forced to enter a contract with a woman calling herself "Shawn Sullivan."
Unknown to them, "Shawn Sullivan" was a scam artist with a fraudulent advertisement on the website Craigslist. The scammer had different phone numbers; one with a 970 area code and others originating from Texas and Hawaii.
The group wanted the West Hallam house because it was close to downtown Aspen. They could have secured a rental in Snowmass Village that was in the same price range.
"We were going to pay by Visa card, but the woman said there were problems with taking a Canadian Visa," Stacey said. "She wanted us to wire money to her Denver bank account at Bank of America. We were hesitant, but we did it."
As they got closer to their trip, the group members became nervous because they had sent such a large amount of money. The supposed homeowner emailed them every few days to allay their fears.
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Still, something about the situation smelled fishy. They did some checking around and learned that the house was not owned by a "Shawn Sullivan." Later, after more digging, they found out that the house was undergoing major renovations.
"We rent all the time, and had never had an issue before," Stacey said.
Howell said he had spoken to "Shawn Sullivan" three separate times. A lack of communication for a few days after the second conversation led to further suspicions.
Stacey said Theresa O'Keefe-Klein, an agent with Coldwell Banker Mason Morse in Aspen, helped salvage the trip. She confirmed suspicions that the house was being renovated and had previously been used in a similar scam.
Klein found the Canadians another rental in the Park Avenue area.
"Theresa was an angel," Stacey said. "She went out of her way to help us."
They reported the scam to the Aspen Police Department. An officer was helpful, but told them that it would be difficult to bring the guilty party to justice.
Howell said the experience would not keep him from renting Aspen-area properties during future X Games.
"We will be back," he said.
His daughter, Dara Howell, won a bronze medal in this year's Women's Ski Slopestyle final.
Blair Weyer, spokeswoman for the Aspen police, said there have been many recent reports of fraud in the area, from what the Canadian group faced to phone calls telling local residents that they owe money to the IRS.
"We see a lot of Craigslist scams," she said. "There's a variety of different ones. We caution against giving someone your money before you've had someone make sure it's legitimate. Last year, there was a trailer this guy was selling on Craigslist, and it was sold multiple times. People were sending money before they had even seen it."
Weyer said it's difficult to investigate the cases because the scammers often work from other states and countries. They use multiple phone numbers and email addresses under fictitious names and shut them down after the con is successful.
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