(WXYZ) - You would think a hotel full of investigative reporters would be a really bad place to work a scam. But the scammers were out in full force at the recent conference of Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) in Orlando Florida. In fact, they almost got me.
I stayed four nights in the Renaissance Hotel at Sea World. On three of those nights, flyers advertising pizza joints were slipped under my hotel door.
On my last night in Orlando, I had a craving for pizza. I was thinking of calling one of the places that left a flyer, but I was suspicious. The three flyers looked almost identical. The menus and prices very similar, and one of the pizza joints didn’t list their address.
So I pulled a hotel employee aside and asked her if the pizza places that put flyers under the door are good. Thank God I asked.
“Don’t do it,” the employee warned. “It’s a big scam. They’re just out to steal your credit card number.”
I investigated and found out the hotel employee’s information was right on the money. Sgt. Juan Viamontes of the Orlando Police Department told Action News the pizza-flyer scam is a huge problem, especially in the hotels along International Drive that house tourists coming to visit Sea World, Disney World and other local attractions. He said he has heard of the same scam operating in other cities popular with tourists, including New York.
I want to share details of the scam with Channel 7 viewers since so many people from Michigan vacation in the Orlando area. I want to make sure you don't get burned, as I almost did.
According to Sgt. Viamontes, if you order a pizza from one of these flyers one of three things will likely happen. They’ll steal your credit card number and run up hundreds or thousands of dollars in charges. In some cases you’ll be charged for a pizza, but it will never arrive. At the very least, Sgt. Viamontes said you will pay for a very inferior pizza that, in some cases, is made in unsanitary conditions.
Worse yet, Sgt. Viamontes said a lot of the people who deliver these pizza flyers are criminals.
“They’re pretty shady characters,” said Sgt. Viamontes. “A lot of them have been in jail or prison and they have no other way to make money.”
Sgt. Viamontes told Action News the people who drop off the flyers also check for open hotel doors. If they find one, they go in and steal personal belongings.
A quick internet search by The Channel 7 Investigators turned up news reports of two criminal incidents involving the pizza-flyer-delivery men in 2010. In one case, a delivery man tried to rape a hotel guest. In a second incident, reports say a flyer-delivery man attacked a hotel guard.
Police and hotel operators have been trying to put a stop to the pizza-flyer scammers, but have had only limited success. Sgt. Viamontes said they usually slip in a back door of the hotel and it’s hard for hotel security officers to catch them.
Recently, the Florida legislators passed a new law making it easier to prosecute people who pass out flyers in a hotel without permission, and raised the penalties for those who are caught. Dubbed the “Tourism Safety Act of 2011,” the new law also allows authorities to confiscate vehicles used by people caught passing out the flyers.
Despite the tougher law, Sgt. Viamontes said this is still a huge problem. He told Action News that some hotels in Orlando are warning guests about the shady pizza flyers, but I didn’t get any kind of warning from the Renaissance at Sea World Hotel where I stayed.
I called the hotel’s media representative and asked why they don’t warn their guests of this scam. She said she would get back to me via email. That was a few days ago, and so far, there’s been no response.
Meanwhile, Sgt. Viamontes offered this advice: If you stay in a hotel in any city, you should never order from flyers slipped under the hotel door. He said the best bet is to find a pizza place in the local Yellow Pages or get a recommendation from the hotel.
And finally, I have this advice for the pizza scammers: You might want to take a few days off when the investigative reporters are in town.
Copyright 2011 Scripps Media, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Wayne County Judge Wade McCree, embroiled in controversy for the better part of two years, could soon be kicked off the bench.
The Food and Drug Administration is taking new action to help phase out the use of antibiotics in meat.
Dave Bing is to give his final speech as mayor before the Detroit Economic Club.