BBB warns Utahns about 5K organizers who take the money and run

SALT LAKE CITY -- Imagine signing up and paying for a 5K only to realize there is no race.

A new scam is duping people around the country, and it has a tie to Salt Lake City.

Whether a 5k or 10k, whether walking or running, many athletes sign up for race to support a cause and have fun. Coming to a city near you, The Birthday Run touts itself as another one of those events.

The website says money goes to charity, and the race guarantees a good time with live music, lights and a party. But, when race day arrives, there’s no starting line.

“We've heard from several other cities who were supposed to have runs and they didn’t happen,” explained Jane Driggs, president of the Better Business Bureau Utah.

She said people have been paying up to sign up for The Birthday Run. The fee is $30 or $50, or for the “Birthday Party in a Box,” a whopping $320. To make the event believable, they’ve got social media accounts, a website and scheduled dates in several cities across the U.S.

“It's really elaborate,” Driggs said. “Whoever thought of this was doing all of their research.”

After fielding complaints in other states, the BBB tried to chase down answers. The red flags popped up almost immediately.

“We can't find any aspect that's real about it," Driggs said. "The phone numbers don't work, addresses don't check out."

The Utah phone number says it’s not in service. The downtown Salt Lake City address listed as the headquarters is bogus.

“We contacted the landlord, and the landlord knows nothing about this company,” Driggs said.

The case continues to grow more serious.

“We're also going to alert the FBI,” explained Driggs, because the scam crosses state lines.

Over at the Wasatch Running Center, they see a lot of eager 5K fans. The biggest tip they give prospective participants: Do your research.

“If it`s just very, very generic, ‘Hey it's this race, this is the amount, register today,’ maybe you need a little more information,” cautioned manager Darrell Phippen.

He suggested picking annual events where you can track down evidence of past races. He also suggests calling or emailing the event organizers.

“Look at where they're located and what kind of contact information is listed on the website," he said. "Make sure, as far as the details of the race are concerned, that all of those details are spelled out."

He said all the little details, things like race packet pickup, early bird or day-of registration as well as times and locations, should be readily available. That way, you know the race you’re running in is for real.

Driggs said The Birthday Run used the website Groupon for some of the sign ups. She said Groupon will offer refunds to runners who signed up through them.