Restaurant manager thwarts $1,000 theft


— An alert manager stopped an attempted scam at a downtown restaurant last month, but the suspected culprit continues to call back in an attempt to steal nearly $1,000.

When Mazzola's Italian Restaurant manager Bryan Lansford received a catering order for 300 people - and an offer for an extra $1,000 payable to a courier service - he immediately suspected that the caller wasn't on the level.

The call came from a relay service, usually used by people who are hard of hearing, disabled or speak another language and cannot place the call on their own. A typical relay service will have an intermediary who takes input from the caller and talks to the person on the other end of the phone.

The caller, claiming to be an elderly, hearing-impaired woman who was recently released from the hospital, asked how much it would cost to order spaghetti Bolognese with meatballs for 150, then 300 people for Mother's Day.

Lansford answered her questions, but after about 20 minutes of talking on a Friday night, the caller requested that a credit card be processed immediately.

"They gave me the credit card number and wanted to know if I could charge it right away. I said no, I can't run it right away, I have to talk to the owner," Lansford said. He told the caller it was typical to run the card on the day the food was picked up.

"They were trying so hard to get that credit card run immediately," Lansford said.

The caller then asked if Lansford could add an additional amount to the bill - nearly $1,000 - to pay the courier who was to pick up the food the following week. The caller wanted Lansford to transfer the money to the courier via Western Union.

"One of the things that raised a red flag was that Bryan said we'll deliver that for free or a nominal charge, and you don't have to pay the courier nearly $1,000," Mazzola's owner Rex Brice said.

The caller nonetheless insisted, and Lansford asked if there was anyone else in the caller's family he could speak to. The caller said no but that she would e-mail the restaurant with information. The follow-up e-mail, Brice said, was filled with poor grammar and spelling errors, leading him to believe the caller may not speak English as a first language.

Mazzola's staff members discovered that the courier service the caller tried to use does not exist, and they informed the credit card company that the card was possibly stolen.

Because the scam was stopped and no money was lost, Brice said the restaurant did not contact the police. Steamboat Springs Police Department captains Joel Rae and Bob DelValle said they were not aware of any other similar scams reported in Steamboat.

Since that time, the caller has tried twice more to get Mazzola's staff to send money to the courier service.

Lansford said he regularly speaks with other restaurant owners and managers and has not heard about the scam anywhere else in town. Brice also said he has not heard about similar calls to his other restaurants - Big House Burgers and Rex's American Grill and Bar - and management staff at four other downtown restaurants confirmed they had not heard of anything similar.

Brice said the ordeal sounded much like a typical spam e-mail, but the callers knew enough about the restaurant to pick a reasonable order.

"This was sort of a direct assault, but who knows if they were even in the same country as us," he said.


Tracy Barnett 7 years, 9 months ago

Congratulations on having an alert staff. I would think, after being thwarted at least once, the scammer would move on. Even if the order was legitimate, I would have been suspicious. Intuition is a beautiful thing.


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