Workers out money from Aspen housing scam

Carolyn Sackariason
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Ignacio Lemos got a bad taste of America his first day in Aspen.

Lemos, 24, and nine of his future housemates, were bilked out of $500 each after they answered an ad on the website Craigslist to rent a single-family house in Aspen. They wired a total of $5,000 in deposit money to a man calling himself John Jacobson, who advertised he had a house for rent at the address of 73A Powder St.

The problem is, there is no Powder Street in Aspen.

“I came here and the house didn’t exist,” said Lemos, who had been recruited by the Aspen Skiing Co. in Argentina prior to his arrival in Aspen on Nov. 28.

As an employee at the Snowmass Club, Lemos went directly to his employer for assistance.

“I couldn’t find the house so I went to the Snowmass Club to find help,” Lemos said, adding the Skico immediately put him in an apartment in the Snowmass Club Commons, an employee housing complex for Skico workers.

Lemos and his girlfriend, Clara Simond, partnered up with eight other fellow recruits to find inexpensive housing. Lemos arrived before the others and when he learned of his fate, he alerted the others that not only were they out $500, they also had no housing at the start of ski season ” certainly a much more dire situation than the scam itself.

The Argentineans, ranging in age between 21 and 24, didn’t know each other before the Skico hired them. They connected in Argentina and began e-mailing one another looking for housing. By pooling their resources, the group thought a six- or seven-bedroom house in Aspen would suffice.

“Now we are all spilt up,” Lemos said, adding some of his friends moved in with people they knew from working here a previous season and four girls found a place in Basalt.

Lemos ended up with a better situation than what the fictitious John Jacobson had to offer.

“Me and my girlfriend live together,” Lemos said of his two-bedroom apartment. He and his would-be housemates were planning to pay $400 a month at the house.

Using the Internet to find housing in Aspen is a common practice among South Americans and other foreign seasonal employees.

“You have to be careful,” Lemos said of the lesson he learned the hard way.

The group wired the money to a Bank of America account. Lemos said he and his friends plan to contact the bank in an attempt to resolve the fraudulent transaction.

It’s really their only hope since it’s difficult to track fraud on Craigslist. The website of classified ads doesn’t guarantee transactions of any kind.

“This is just another version of an Internet scam,” said Aspen police officer Jim Crowley, who handled Lemos’ police report when he filed it a couple of days after arriving in town.

“Every time they put a twist on these things and a few more people fall for it,” Crowley said. He sent Lemos to the Internet fraud division of the FBI.

Lemos thinks he’s got a better chance with the bank.

“They told me that it is going to be very difficult to find this person,” he said.

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