Contact: Michelle L. Corey, 314-645-3300 or email@example.com or Chris Thetford, 314-645-3300 or firstname.lastname@example.org
St. Louis, Mo., Sept. 15, 2009 - St. Louis restaurateurs are being plagued by potential thieves using telephone-relay systems for the speech and hearing-impaired to try to trick restaurant managers into paying delivery fees for bogus catering events.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) urges that any company that does catering be extremely cautious when dealing with persons asking for advance fees to pay for deliveries.
Although the BBB is aware of no local restaurant that has lost money in a phone-relay catering scheme, restaurant managers say the calls are often time consuming and one said he worries that he may be losing legitimate business by ignoring phone-relay calls.
Michelle Corey, president and CEO of the St. Louis BBB, said that the catering scam has been around for a long time, but using a phone-relay system “is certainly a 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.
John Iovaldi, manager of Pietro’s Restaurant in St. Louis, said he received a phone call through a phone-relay system about three weeks ago, requesting food for a wedding.
Iovaldi said the caller wanted to order chicken for about 150 people, but Iovaldi thought it was “a little strange” when the caller told him he didn’t care what kind of chicken was delivered. Iovaldi became even more suspicious when the caller said he wanted the restaurant to use the caller’s delivery service, and asked that the restaurant make an advance cash payment at the time of pickup because the service would not take a credit card. He said he ended the conversation at that point. Still, he said, he is afraid others may fall for the scam.
John Thomas, manager of St. Louis’ Rigazzi’s Restaurant, said he began receiving phone-relay calls requesting catering services last year. He said a caller, who he believed to have been female, used the system to ask that Rigazzi’s cater a birthday party. He said they had agreed on a $900 food charge and an additional $500 for delivery. Thomas said he balked when the caller asked him for a $200 cashier’s check to cover a portion of the catering cost that she could not put on her charge card. “She never even told me where the party was supposed to be.” He said he continues to receive phone calls from the system almost every day, but does not accept them. “It’s a shame,” he said, “because it could be a real customer.”
Similar calls have been made to restaurants around the U. S. in recent weeks. Just last month, a restaurant in Boulder, Colo. lost more than $4,700 in a catering scam to a thief who called through a relay system.
Several weeks ago, the BBB received an inquiry from Vince Bommarito, owner of Tony’s Restaurant, who said his business had been contacted via e-mail about what appeared to be a similar scam. In that case, he said, a person wanted to bring a group of people to town for a meal at his St. Louis restaurant. The e-mail was similar to e-mails sent to other restaurants requesting the businesses pay upfront fees. Bommarito said he did not pursue the e-mail. “After all these years, you have a sixth sense about these things. It didn’t seem right.”
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 caller. If you have any questions, hang up and call the person back, preferably checking the listing with the phone directory.
· 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.
· If you suspect a scam, contact the BBB at 314-645-3300 or www.bbb.org.