June 16, 2024

SAM Magazine—Red Lodge, Mont., March 7, 2024—An elaborate operation to peddle illegally procured lift tickets at reduced prices on Craigslist, is taking aim at countless ski resorts throughout North America.

The scam came to light when Red Lodge Mountain, Mont. officials became suspicious and confronted guests who had bought tickets from a Craigslist user at a 50 percent markdown. The unwitting victims were, like many people, drawn in by the prospects of a bargain on lift tickets, utterly unaware of their part in a scam. Local law enforcement was subsequently roped in to assist with investigations.

The modus operandi of this nefarious scam mirrors the description of credit card fraud mentioned in a previous SAM article (“Exposing Fraud,” November 2023). The swindler(s) acquires lift tickets online with pilfered credit card data and assumes the role of a third-party ticket vendor on Craigslist. The fraudster then sells the tickets at a discount and provides QR codes to the buyers to exchange for lift tickets at kiosks or ticket counters. In the case of Red Lodge, the swindled victims used Venmo to pay the dishonest Craigslist user.

For every transaction, the perpetrator configures a unique customer profile in the e-commerce system, making detection and tracking highly challenging.

A cursory Craigslist search discloses several such fraudulent operators, some advertising half-priced lift tickets for ski resorts spanning from Maine to California.

In the SAM feature, ski operators disclosed several giveaway signs that can help reveal fraudsters, such as reusing the same (stolen) credit card details for multiple unrelated transactions; identical shipping addresses; the entry of names in all lower-case letters; and supplying a complete first name but only an initial for the last name.

Similarly, suspicious email addresses and personal data from people residing extremely distant from the resort can also serve as red flags of possible deceit.

After spotting the illegal transactions, the ski resort staff confront the guests when they attempt to redeem their tickets and typically rope in law enforcement at this juncture. In the instance of Mountain Creek, N.J., the FBI was called into action.

In the war against credit card fraud, operators are advised to augment their knowledge of how these scams operate, vigilantly monitor online activity for signs of being targeted, scrutinize transactions for potential fraud, and leverage this information to bolster future efforts at preventing fraud.