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Prank Calls Once Again on the Rise:
Hotel Guest Duped into Unleashing Flood from Sprinklers

By Jason Gonzales, Star-News, Wilmington, N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

March 28, 2012--Blue industrial-size carpet fans litter the halls of the Best Western in Leland.

The humidity and musty odor steaming from the rooms is stifling. Water damage is everywhere, and even the framed photos show signs of warping.

It looks as if the hotel is dealing with the aftermath of a hurricane.

But the cause of the damage to 27 rooms on the first two floors of the 100-room hotel is much more sinister.

Early Saturday morning, a guest of the hotel received a prank call to his room phone notifying him of a gas leak within the building. The person on the phone, identifying himself as an employee of the hotel, gave detailed instructions on how to save the building.

Dismantle the water sprinkler, the person told the guest.

The result was two hours of water spewing from the sprinkler and what looks like thousands of dollars worth of damage.

The hotel workers are coping with falling prey to a prank that has plagued other establishments around the country.

"We are trying to keep a humorous spin on it when we talk about it," said Haven Holsinger, marketing director. "Mostly so we don't get too frustrated by it all."

The call came the day after Good Morning America aired a special on similar incidents. According to the show's report, prank calls like Friday's have been reported around the country since at least 2009, often driven by malicious Internet sites.

They've happened sporadically, according to Kathryn Potter, spokeswoman with the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

The association has warned its members about similar incidents, she said.

"We usually hear about a rash of them every year," Potter said.

In some instances, the prank calls have cost hotels more than $50,000.

At the Leland Best Western, insurance agents are still assessing the cost of the damage. Law enforcement officials are also combing through phone records to pinpoint where the call came from, Holsinger said.

For now, the hotel is drying out, and fans should be removed by Friday, she said. Crews will be at the hotel to begin ripping out drywall sometime after that.

With tourist season nearing and the N.C. Azalea Festival a couple weeks away, Holsinger said she is hoping to get all of her rooms back in service so the hotel doesn't lose revenue.

"It's definitely bad timing," she said. "We just want to get back to business so we don't have to turn people away."

As for the costly prank, she said, "It's a good learning experience. Hopefully, this can be an example for others in the area."

Jason Gonzales: 343-2075

On Twitter: @StarNews_Jason


(c)2012 the Star-News (Wilmington, N.C.)

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