Cops: Man Used Guests’ Credit Cards In Order To Live The High Life At Luxury Hotels

Can’t afford to stay in the priciest hotels, order the swankiest room service and wash your hands with the nicest-smelling fancy soaps? Don’t use other guests’ credit cards to make your dreams come true, as cops say one homeless man did. He was busted for allegedly posing as guests at luxury hotels and going on spending sprees at the expense of his victims.

Orange County police say the man has been homeless for the last two years, and was seeking shelter at some of the area’s most lavish hotels, including The Ritz Carlton, Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Portofino Bay — all on other people’s dimes.

The man’s scams have apparently been going on since June 2010. Officials say he’d watch a guest leave, then he would enter the room and claim to be that person. Once ensconced in the room,  he’d call the front desk and ask to extend the stay for as much as 10 days.

At one hotel, cops claim he spent almost $9,000 in charges to an Ohio man’s credit card.

“I don’t know how he got in my room, how he got my debit card. But he got like the best wines, the best restaurants, room service. He got clothes and the whole ball of wax,” the victim told WFTV. He ended up getting his money back after the ordeal.

Police arrested the man this week after he found his way into a room at the Hard Rock Hotel that had been previously occupied by a hotel worker. Security officers knew that employee had left already, and called the cops. Officers say they found items from other hotels.

The man spent the night in jail but it’s unclear what kind of charges will be leveled against him for his two years of fun.

Investigators: Homeless man arrested, stays at hotels on other people’s expense [WFTV]

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  1. Red Cat Linux says:

    What… did no one ever ask the fellow his name when he called up to extend his stay?

    Cue new policies regarding CC information on file in 3, 2, 1…

    • henwy says:

      Probably not since if he was smart he’d just call from the room. They’d see where the call was coming from at the front desk and it’s unlikely they’d ask him to stop by.

    • Hedgy2136 says:

      A lot of these hotels have a service that lets you review your bill via the TV. Easy enough to tune to the right channel and get all the info you need.

      • Red Cat Linux says:

        That I might see, if the channel still lets you see the bill after you’ve checked out. I’ve never tuned back to see afterward – don’t know.

        If you check out, and you can still browse that information, it’s (obviously!) a security hole.

    • jeepguy57 says:

      Actually, most of these hotels address you by name when your call from your room, ie “Hello Mr. Smith.”

      I rarely check out of hotels – I usually just leave and either get emailed a bill or have one slipped under the door before I leave. I could see how someone could easily pull this off. Getting into the room is the only part that I find baffling – but even that isn’t that hard.

      Plus, once inside the room, who knows what the previous guest left behind with their name on it. Boarding pass from their previous flight, luggage tag from the airline, who knows.

      • RandomHookup says:

        I have stayed tons at hotels, but was wondering that myself. I can grab a key you have disposed of in the lobby, but I don’t know your room number. I can try to sneak around housekeeping to get into the room, but they know when you’ve checked out. Maybe the best is to spot the guy going around distributing folios. At least you know who’s checking out … but how do you get into the room?

        I have found hotel maids don’t do a great job policing someone who walks into a room, but you’d need to find the key to make the deal work. The combo of key + guest checking out has me stumped (without some wild speculation).

        • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

          having previously worked in a hotel, a guest with a late checkout may have maids lurking in the hall waiting for them to leave. housekeeping is cleaning the room, door is left open while they are vacuuming, they’d never notice someone sticking a piece of tape over the latch and then waiting until they leave to just push the door open.

          • jeepguy57 says:

            I assume if you found a housekeeper in the hall and said you checked out but forgot something in the room, most times I bet they would let you in.

            Assuming this guy didn’t look like a homeless guy and assuming he could play the part of a business traveler, I bet he won the trust of many hotel employees.

            I am thinking a Templeton Peck kinda guy – and not the Bradley Cooper version.

            • bbb111 says:

              At some of the better run hotels I’ve stayed in, If went into my room when housekeeping was there they insisted that I demonstrate a valid key for the room before they let me in. [Some of these were inexpensive hotels.]

              I always check out at the desk to make sure the bill is correct – additional charges can happen after the early morning receipt is put under the door.

          • RandomHookup says:

            I’ve seen how easy it easy to get into a room while housekeeping is working (which is why I hide my laptop whenever I’m out of the room), but I’m still not sure how you can pull it off.

            Here’s the scenario I see:

            * You use the technique you mention above.
            * You need to get luck and hope there is a key left behind in the room (meaning you need to find a room that is being checked out of). You could identify that by noticing which rooms got the folio under the door in the early morning.
            * If you don’t get the key to match the room, it seems you are screwed because you don’t have ID to get another key (and maybe it’s not that hard to find the key in the room before housekeeping gets to it).
            * Here’s a thought. You pull off the above by commandeering the room and then call the front desk for an extra key. Because they bring it to you (and you have the name from the folio), they aren’t likely to ask for your ID. Now, I think I have the model.

            I was struggling with all the elements you need — room being checked out of, inside the room, key without ID, name of the occupant (getting one or two was easy, but not all 3). Now to embark upon my new life of crime…

            It seems possible to do that, but that it would take so many attempts to get all the factors right that it would be difficult to do without getting spotted.

  2. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    “it’s unclear what kind of charges will be leveled against him”

    What? How about theft of services to start with!

    • RandomLetters says:

      Lets add identity theft to the list.

    • One-Eyed Jack says:

      I assume that hotel clerks don’t review guest charges on a daily basis. But wouldn’t it throw up some red flags if a guest extends their stay then only for the second half of the stay spends lavishly on room service, spa treatments, etc.?

      Two of the hotels named are at Universal Orlando Resort. It’s possible the thief shopped in CityWalk and had purchases and dining, maybe even theme park tickets, charged the rooms as well.

      So yeah — ID theft, theft of services, theft of property, trespassing — I’d say there’s lots to charge him with.

  3. Hi_Hello says:

    if I was homeless, i would do it too.

  4. mistyfire says:

    Another example of why I am really liking cash more and more….

    • hoi-polloi says:

      I’ve never stayed at a hotel that didn’t require a credit card on file, even if you’re planning to pay with cash upon check-out.

      • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

        it’s possible. the hotel i used to work at did it mostly for teachers’ conventions because a lot of them couldn’t afford the hold on the card. we’d have to shut off all the extras – room service was set to “pay on receipt,” pay per view was turned off, and they couldn’t charge to their room from the bar or restaurant.
        but it wasn’t automatic and it wasn’t advertised and it involved a manager setting it up

  5. KyBash says:

    With my luck, I’d pick the room of someone on a terrorist watch list.

    • econobiker says:

      Or the guy who stole someone else’s credit card to use for the room…

      And there would be multiple warrants for his arrest…

      And he and I would have similar names…

  6. Captain Spock says:

    Its a good plan for a homeless man… Live it up for as long as you can, then if you get arrested and go to jail… 3 squares, a bed, and warm in the winter.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      yep. once upon a time i lived in downtown orlando and parked my car on the street. a guy who had been homeless, spent the previous ten months in jail and had just been released walked up to my car in front of a cop and punched out the little 3/4 panel window.
      he got another 8 months. i’m glad he chose the cheapest window to punch out but he bled all over the interior of my car.
      fortunately i wasn’t in it… because i was actually homeless/living in my car when he did it.

  7. j2.718ff says:

    The article says he’s been homeless for 2 years, and that he’s been living in swanky hotel rooms for the past 2 years. So which is it?

    • BigHeadEd says:

      My thoughts exactly. The guy is a thief, and calling him homeless seems more like an attempt to create a debate about whether or not his actions were justified.

    • JJFIII says:

      They are not mutually exclusive. If he does not have a home, he is by definition homeless. If I stayed a hotel every night and had no permenant address, no matter my income, I would be homeless.

    • JJFIII says:

      They are not mutually exclusive. If he does not have a home, he is by definition homeless. If I stayed a hotel every night and had no permenant address, no matter my income, I would be homeless.

      • j2.718ff says:

        The thing is, we don’t have a 100% clear definition here. What if I don’t have a home (let’s say couchsurfing, or something similar), but I maintain a PO Box? I’ve got a roof over my head every night, and a permanent mailing address.

        What if I have a home, which I own, but am renting out to someone else while I spend several months hiking the Appalachian trail? Am I homeless then?

        Also of note, in English, we place a distinction between “staying” in a hotel, and “living” in a house. Many languages do not, and it would be entirely normal to state that you are “living in a hotel tonight.”

    • econobiker says:

      I think that he has been pulling the scam on-off for the past two years but not staying in hotel rooms the entire two years…

      He has also probably sleeping in the bushes around the hotels for the last two years…

  8. CrazyEyed says:

    You have to admit, he had to have some brains and balls to do this for 2 years without getting caught. Now he gets to go to a slightly smaller room but with bars.

  9. Girthbomb says:

    This happened to me in Edmonton, AB Canada. Had used my hotel points to stay.
    Checked out. After I got home, was going through my credit card online and discovered additional amounts to the hotel. Should have only had the parking fee. Was a couple of thousand for 2 nights and a smoking charge.
    Called the Hotel and they said I extended my stay. I said no I didn’t. Luckily the doorman remembered me and my family checking out. Plus I has proof of being in Montana the next night.
    The person must have grabbed the key off the front desk after I checked out and went to the room and extended the stay. Even tried to get cash advances.
    To be safe I cancelled the card.

    I no longer officially check out at the front desk and either leave the keys in the room or take them with me.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      leaving the keys in the room only works if the person doesn’t jam the lock while housekeeping is vacuuming. i worked in a hotel and that’s the most obvious way to get access to a room without the keys. if you leave the keys in there they could just pick them up and keep using them

      • Girthbomb says:

        Thanks for pointing that out.

        I will begin a collecting or returning them to the next hotel I stay at.

        I usually stay with a certain group of chains and the keys are the same.

        • scoosdad says:

          It’s been years since I’ve stayed in a hotel that used physical keys. It’s all on plastic, reprogrammable cards now.

          Don’t bother leaving them in the room when you leave because the hotel doesn’t care one bit if you leave and take the card with you. Those plastic cards don’t carry any physical value to them like a real key would. If they’ve done what they’re supposed to do, the lock on the door to the room will stop accepting that card anyway once the time you’re supposed to have been checked out by has passed and it’s still in your wallet on the airplane home. At that point it’s a worthless piece of plastic.

          And I don’t get the part about you leaving your keys at the front desk and then saying they were swiped by the squatter– you went to all the trouble of stopping off there but you didn’t have an extra minute to have them print out your final bill and give you a copy to take home with you?

  10. Stickdude says:

    He was simply making sure the 1% were paying their fair share – while cutting out the middleman (IRS).

    He should be applauded – especially on this site.

  11. Murph1908 says:

    Thank YOU, Mr. Akavano.

    Or did he charge it to Stanwyk?

  12. RandomHookup says:

    Something’s missing here… How did he get the info to be able to claim to be that person? I can see picking up a dropped keycard as someone’s checking out or their folio, but not enough info to do much damage.

  13. CorvetteJoe says:

    Hah, that’s just down the street from me…crazy homeless people.

  14. HogwartsProfessor says:

    That kitteh looks sketchy.

  15. dush says:

    Now he’ll probably get a free home in jail at taxpayers’ expense…

  16. buzz86us says:

    As a desk clerk this is why I like to ask that they themselves come to the desk when they e i xtend so i can physically run the card.

  17. vnlindstrom says:

    I’m surprised no one has said this yet, but it sounds like it could be an inside job. How else could this strategy have worked for two years, over and over, all around OC?

    I’m not saying the vast majority of hotel employees aren’t completely honest, but every industry has bad apples. Or he could be related to an outside contractor who works with a bunch of local hotels, like a security camera or AC repair service.

    However he did it, he’d have to know that the room was empty, that the guest was checking out that day, and didn’t check out in person, that they used a credit card when checking in, that he wouldn’t be spotted or questioned for lurking around the hotel, and (probably) that no one was slotted into the room for that night when he called. It seems like an impossible set of conditions to be pure coincidence.

    • mianne prays her parents outlive the TSA says:

      Homeless guy in the lobby casually takes notice of a bellhop taking an empty luggage cart to the elevator. He notes which floor the elevator stops on. He saunters outside to smoke a cigarette, keeping an eye on the front desk to see if guest stops there. If not, he then surreptitiously peeks at a luggage tag on a suitcase while the guest is busy dealing with the valet attendant. He now has guest’s name, phone number, and hometown including zip code, which are things a desk clerk might ask for to verify identity.

      He puts out his cigarette and walks over to the guest who’s waiting for their car to be delivered. Seeing that the valet attendant and bellhop are now attending to other guests, he’ll politely ask the guest if he remembered to return his room key. He’ll then expect a response like, “I left it in the room”, “I put it in a drop box,” or “No, actually I’ve still got it… here!” If he thinks he can get away with it, he might even state that the hotel is adding a $2 charge to the bill for non-returned keys. If all this fails, to get him the key or to know where to find it, he’ll start over again, but by this time, the guest’s car is pulling up, they’ve got to get to the airport, and don’t have time to be bothered to report this suspicious individual.

      If the guest didn’t check out at the desk, the key card should still be active. Even if they checked out from the TV, it probably wouldn’t deactivate the card immediately. People often do go back into their room if they think they have forgotten a cellphone charger or whatnot.

      Anyway, our intrepid freeloader now goes up to the floor where the bellhop stopped, and with luck, housekeeping is already tending to the room and he knows its exact location now. If he doesn’t already have the key card, he probably has a good idea where to look. A long pair of tweezers could retrieve a card out of a drop box, If it was in the room, he can quietly monitor the maid’s cart from a stairwell or in the ice machine nook. When they move to the next room and are busy inside, he takes the first two cards from the stack, one of which will open the room.

      By now, the guest is probably in the airport security queue. Our con artist enters the room with one of the purloined keycards. He calls down to the front desk and reports that he’s had a change in his itinerary and would like to extend his stay another week. The desk clerk asks for the billing zip code for his card for verification purposes, and he rattles off the zip he got from the luggage tag. The desk clerk then asks, “Again, I thank you for staying with us, Mr. Patsy. Is there anything else I can assist you with today?”

      “Sure, could you send up a bottle of Chateau Lafitte?”

      • pamelad says:

        Clever reply! But who would be dumb enough to put personal information on the outside of a luggage tag?

        • vnlindstrom says:

          And again, any of the strategies mentioned so far could easily work once. But over and over?

      • RandomHookup says:

        Interesting theory. I think it’s easier to just walk the hallways at 5 am and grab the check out folios that are slid partially under the doors. Grab several on different floors. Return just as the housekeeping team is starting to clean the floor. Surf into a room they just opened, hoping that keys have been left behind. If none, tape the lock and return later. Call the front desk to say you’re extending your stay and that you’ve lost your wallet and keys. Ask them to bring up a set. Tip well.

        The problem with the luggage cart is you don’t know if that’s the info the hotel has. My folios often showed my office address or the address of my company travel agency.

  18. elbows_deep_silent_queef says:

    “…going on spending sprees at the expense of his victims.”

    Victims is an overused word with such a strong connotation. The official definition is appropriate, but the meaning in common parlance infers a certain suffering most of these people probably don’t know. Victims infers the degree of fear and pain suffered by those who are stalked, kidnapped, raped, molested, tortured and murdered. The largest problem for these people is that someone used their credits at luxury hotels. They aren’t getting a boatload of sympathy from me, although they do deserve redress: directly from the hotel. A more appropriate word in this context would be “mark”, a term specifically describing the victim of a con.

    tl;dr Please understand that words bear more than their strict meaning, and that their selection and order is an art whose mastery is critical for clear understanding of the subject at hand. It’s not only a matter of reading between the lines, but writing between them, so to speak.

  19. incident-man stole my avatar says:

    Years ago I went to Disney, I checked in and went to the room only to find the room filled with other people’s stuff. I called the front desk and they promptly apologized and moved me to an upgraded room but it left me wondering how often does that happen and what would stop me from taking stuff from the room.