Christchurch restaurant falls victim to nationwide scam targeting hospitality companies
30 January 2019
Restaurants across New Zealand are being targeted by a scam that has left at least one Christchurch business thousands of dollars out of pocket.
Fraudsters are sending emails to hospitality companies asking them to prepare food for functions such as a wedding or birthday party. They use stolen credit cards to pay and ask the restaurants to charge a higher value to a credit card than what the food cost.
They then ask the restaurant to transfer the difference to a party planner or courier, but in reality it is actually the fraudster's account.
The owner of a Christchurch restaurant, who did not want to be named, said she felt "embarrassed and naive" for falling victim to the scam. Her business had lost about $3800 to the fraudsters.
The restaurant received an email from a man claiming to be Tony Knight asking for his wedding to be catered for.
The menu and a price of $1700 was agreed to through email, then Knight gave the restaurant credit card details to take the payment from. The first credit card declined, then Knight produced another one. He asked the restaurant to take $5700 from the credit card and transfer about $3800 to his wedding planner. Knight told the restaurant to keep an additional $200 as a tip for the hassle.
"Thinking back now it was really stupid and silly."
She had no inkling she had been scammed until the wedding planner did not pick up the food as planned on December 18.
The bank has since been notified the card was stolen and the restaurant owner has been told she has 60 days to pay the bank back the full $5700. The restaurant is a credit card merchant so is obliged to pay the money back.
She was able to sell the food on site so managed to recoup $1700, but was still $3800 out of pocket.
"I could go to the police, but it will not get my money back. The excess for my fraud insurance is $5000 so it's not even worth lodging a claim."
BNZ financial crime manager Serena McFarlane said fraudsters were targeting the hospitality industry around New Zealand.
"Unfortunately, any money the merchant sent to a third party is not recoverable.
"If a customer asks you to pay for the party planner, the dressmaker, the celebrant, the musicians – that should ring alarm bells even if an invoice is provided. It is up to the customer to pay their own providers."
Several Christchurch restaurants have confirmed they have received emails from Tony Knight asking them to cater either a wedding or birthday party, including Twenty Seven Steps, The Monday Room, Universo and No4.
No4 restaurant and bar general manager Dan White said he received an email from Tony Knight last week requesting food for an event off site.
He ignored the email after being warned by other bar and restaurant managers and owners in the city.
He said he would never accept a catering job without seeing the person face to face.
The Monday Room (TMR) bar general manager Ben van Wijk said the business was contacted through email from someone claiming to be Tony Knight on January 21 wanting a birthday party catered for 35 people. After a few email exchanges, owner Katy Mecchia suspected something was not right, but continued correspondence to find out more information.
Van Wijk said Knight came up with all sorts of reasons why he could not talk on the phone or face to face, including that he was hearing impaired and about to go to hospital for an operation.
He said Knight asked the TMR to put through $5320 on his credit card and transfer $3550 to his courier, who would pick it up on January 29. TMR did not go ahead with the transaction and has since ceased all correspondence with Knight.
Detective Sergeant Don Fisher said he had received two complaints about a scam and was "assessing a file" to consider whether the issue was a criminal or civil matter.
"People need to be careful when entering into business contracts especially where you're not meeting these people in person."
(SOURCE: www.stuff.co.nz, Tina Law, retrieved 31/01/2019)