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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 trick unwary winter sports enthusiasts out of thousands of pounds

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

Ceri Tinley, managing director of Consensio, which operates lavish self-catering chalets and apartments in the French and Swiss Alps, has revealed a customer was defrauded of £135,000 ($164,000) after being duped by a fake website . Instead of sending the money to Consensio for one of his Val-d’Isère properties, they sent the exorbitant amount to the criminals.

Tinley also revealed how a family arrived at a Consensio chalet in Val-d’Isere, thinking they had 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 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 trick unwary winter sports enthusiasts out of thousands of pounds

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

Fortunately, with the help of Consensio, they found alternative accommodation in the village.

So how are travelers caught off guard?

First, because scam sites look very professional and use images of real luxury chalets, often with descriptions and terms and conditions taken from genuine websites.

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

And the correspondence they send in response to inquiries is polite, efficient and helpful.

Additionally, they carry an https encryption buffer in their URLs. Many see this as a sign that a site is above all else, but in many cases it just means that the information sent to that site is encrypted, not that the site is trustworthy.

Scammers usually steal money by demanding that payment be made by direct bank transfer.

The reason scammers love wire transfers is partly because setting up credit card schemes requires approval from card providers, but also because the money just gets to their account faster.

By the time the site is scolded and it’s obvious someone has been scammed, 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, then they take it straight out and disappear.

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Money is often siphoned off within minutes, Barclays says, leaving banks powerless to recover it.

Thus, alarm bells should ring if a site does not accept credit card payments.

One of Consensio's luxury properties - Chalet Le Namaste in Courchevel

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

Kevin Pratt, consumer affairs expert at MoneySuperMarket, said: “If a ski lodge operator insists you pay by bank transfer rather than credit card, that should set off alarm bells.” A merchant or merchant must be approved by card providers before they can accept plastic card payments, so if they aggressively refuse to take plastic, you might want to ask yourself why. Is it really a legit business?

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

Other warning signs include suspiciously low prices, duplicate 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% cheaper than the average price, there is something wrong.

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“Never pay to a personal bank account if the company you are trying to book through claims to be a business. It’s a huge red flag.

Luxury: Consensio's Shemshak Lodge in Courchevel 1850

Luxury: Consensio’s Shemshak Lodge in Courchevel 1850

“And if they ask for crypto payments, it might be shady.

“Also check if the company is registered with Atol or Iata – although this is only relevant if they offer packages. So if a site is not registered with these organisations, it does not mean that ‘he is doubtful.

“If it’s not a change from Saturday or Sunday, that’s also a huge red flag.

“Most companies, for example, wouldn’t accept a Friday-Friday booking because that splits two weeks. But the scammers pretend, so they don’t care.

“And if you suddenly find a large chalet available during short-term school holidays, that’s another red flag.”

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

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