Scam Targets Chesterfield Caterer

January 18, 2011

Incident Similar to Other Cases in Area

RICHMOND, Va. – A familiar scam that targets caterers and restaurants resurfaced recently in Chesterfield County.

“This closely resembles other scams we’ve investigated last year,” said Tom Gallagher, president and CEO of the BBB in Central Virginia.

Gallagher said the perpetrator used a telephone relay service to place a large order with a Chesterfield County-based caterer. Telephone relay service is typically used by hearing-impaired people to make phone calls. Using a TTY or other similar device, the caller contacts an operator who relays the typed message to the called party. By law, operators are not permitted to disclose the origin of the call, which makes the service appealing to scammers who want to hide their identity.

In this case, the scammer used a credit card, presumably stolen, to order food for 300 people. He or she indicated that a private shipping company would pick up and deliver the order. The caterer was instructed to pay the shipper $300 in cash and apply that charge to the total bill on the credit card.

The owner of the catering firm became suspicious and hung up on the caller. Had the scam continued, the caterer would have lost $300 and the food that it prepared.

The catering company said it received several calls similar to this last November. In addition, the scam surfaced last year at several Richmond-area restaurants, as well as a florist and an auto parts store. Gallagher said he believes the calls are coming from outside the U.S., perhaps the Caribbean.

“We’re alarmed that this is still occurring. Businesses need to be vigilant, particularly if they receive unusually large orders over the phone or by email,” he said.

The BBB offers the following advice to business owners to help identify fraud over telephone relay services:

• If the customer is using a TTY Relay Operator ask the customer for his/her full name, address and telephone number.

• Ask the customer to provide the name of the issuing bank and its toll-free customer service number, as printed on the back of all credit cards.

• Ask the customer for the three or four digit Card Verification Code that is found near the account number on the back or front of a credit card.

• Tell the customer that you will check with the bank and call them back. When you do that, keep good notes. Verify all information the customer provides. If a customer objects, explain that these procedures are for their protection, as well.

• If the customer still objects to providing any of the above information, abandon the conversation and advise that you are not prepared to do business this way.

Businesses that have fallen prey to the telephone relay scam should notify the BBB at 804-648-0030.

The BBB in Central Virginia serves Richmond and Tri-Cities, as well as 42 surrounding counties, from Fauquier to Mecklenburg and Northumberland to Amherst. The nonprofit organization was established in 1954 to advance responsible, honest and ethical business practices and to promote customer confidence through self-regulation of business. Core services of the BBB include business reliability reports, dispute resolution, truth-in advertising, consumer and business education and charity review.