St. Louis, Mo., Oct. 26, 2009 – A national scam that has been using telephone relay systems for the speech and hearing-impaired to try to steal money from restaurants apparently has made its way to Columbia, Mo.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning mid-Missouri restaurateurs to be on the lookout for the bogus phone calls in which a customer uses the relay system to try to trick food managers into paying delivery fees for bogus catering events.
Rob Hayward, general manager of Bennigan’s Grill & Tavern in Columbia, told the BBB that his restaurant has been the target of what appear to be two separate catering scams in recent weeks.
In the first, he said, a woman used the system to try to order 70 Caesar salads at a cost of $600.
In the second, he said, a customer tried to order $600 or $700 in crab cakes for a wedding reception.
In each case, he said, the women asked in follow-up e-mails that Hayward charge the entire cost of the food, plus hefty delivery charges, to credit card numbers they supplied. Hayward said they then asked him to make the payments – totaling another $600 or $700 – to their designated delivery services. He said he quickly identified the orders as bogus, noting a similar BBB alert involving St. Louis restaurants last month.
Hayward said the phone calls were so time-consuming that he has instructed his staff to tell any future callers on the system to communicate via e-mail.
Michelle Corey, president and CEO of the BBB serving the Columbia area, said that the catering scam has been around for a long time, but using a phone-relay system “is a relatively new twist.” She urged that caterers never pay ahead for deliveries to customers who promise to reimburse the costs. “If you put cash out front, chances are you will lose your food and your money.”
A relay system allows someone who is hearing-impaired to electronically transmit typed messages to an operator who then reads the messages to the hearing person on the other end. The operator then types any responses and relays them to the speech or hearing-impaired caller.
Similar calls have been made to restaurants around the U.S. in recent weeks. Earlier this year, a restaurant in Boulder, Colo., lost more than $4,700 to a thief who called through a relay system.
The BBB offers the following tips for persons contacted by phone or e-mail about scheduling events or catering:
- Make sure to get a full name, address and phone number for the person calling. If you have any questions, hang up and call the person back.
- If the customer says he will use a credit card for payment, ask for the name of the issuing bank, its toll-free customer service number as printed on the card back and the three or four-digit verification code on the card.
- Do not accept an offer to use an unknown delivery service, especially if the customer wants you to make any upfront payments.
For more information or to check the Reliability Report of a business, call the BBB at (314) 645-3300 or go online to www.bbb.org.
Contacts: Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-645-3300, firstname.lastname@example.org or Bill Smith, Trade Practice Investigator, 314-645-3300, email@example.com