The Metropolitan Police is hunting the perpetrators of a sophisticated wine scam, as another high-end restaurant managed to avoid falling victim to a fraud that could have cost it tens of thousands of pounds.
The scam came to light early in November, when David Moore, owner of Michelin-starred restaurant Pied a Terre, reported that his restaurant had been defrauded of £12,000 of Champagne and wine by a group pretending to work for wealthy Arab clients.
Meanwhile, two-Michelin-starred chef Daniel Clifford of Midsummer House in Cambridge revealed last month that his team were taken in by a call from someone posing to be the agent of a premier league footballer and ended up sending £28,000 worth of wine in a taxi to an address provided by the fraudsters.
And now it has emerged that three-AA-rosette Scunthorpe restaurant Winteringham Fields managed to avoid falling foul of a scam that saw a fraudster posing as Chelsea footballer Fernando Torres attempt to cheat the business out of nearly £3,000 of wine.
The restaurant's sales and finance manager Bryony Johnson contacted The Caterer about the incident after she realised it bore strong similarities to Pied a Terre and Midsummer House's experiences, although it is not clear at this stage if all three scams were perpetrated by the same individual or group.
The man, posing as Torres, initially rang asking to see the wine list, then booked a table and asked to speak to the sommelier about some of the high-end wines. He ordered about ten bottles, totalling £27,800.
Johnson said the man tried to pre-pay for the wine but the transactions would not go through. The next day, he paid successfully over two cards. Later that day he rang again and said that he was holding a dinner party for Didier Drogba in London and decided he needed the wine there and asked if it could be sent by taxi to an address in Lewisham.
It was at this point that Johnson became suspicious. When the man tried to order other wines such as Cristal and Champagne, the restaurant asked for payment via bank transfer, at which point he became evasive. Eventually he asked for a refund on his card, but knowing that the restaurant could lose its own money by doing this, Johnson contacted the bank and had the transactions voided.
It later transpired that in his conversations with various members of staff at the restaurant, the man had used eight credit cards, all of which were fake.
"We were lucky, but everything was so wrong when we started looking into it. We're a small family business and this could have been extremely detrimental to us," said Johnson. "We would have been liable for every penny so we could have ended up without the money and without the wine."
Action Fraud, the national fraud and cyber reporting centre, confirmed that several reports of this type of scam have been made to the police in recent weeks, although it could not make any further comment as investigations by the Metropolitan Police are ongoing.
An Action Fraud spokesman said: "Prior to accepting any card payments, retailers/restaurants should always seek fraud prevention advice from their payment service provider, who will have a wealth of information available to help them manage the associated risks and make informed decisions."
Any retailer processing high value card-not-present (CNP) transactions over the phone should be wary of the following:
- Authorisation does not guarantee payment. When a transaction is authorised, it simply means that the linked account is open, and that the required funds are available. It does not mean that the transaction has been verified as genuine.
- Whenever a transaction is processed over the phone, the retailer is almost always liable in the event that the transaction is subsequently identified as fraudulent.
- It can take several months for the retailer to be notified that the transaction is fraudulent, at which point the funds will then be recovered by their payment service provider, long after the goods have been released.
- Splitting a payment between several cards, particularly where there are declines, is a strong indicator for fraud.
- In any event where the goods are being collected by the customer in person, the preference should always be to take a payment using the physical card, with verification of the chip and PIN at the time of collection.
In the event that the retailer decides to process a CNP transaction over the phone, the following checks are recommended, at a minimum:
- The first 6 digits of any credit or debit card are known as the Issuer Identification Number (IIN), or Bank Identification Number (BIN). This number is exclusive to the financial institution that issued the card. There are lots of services online which enable this number to be checked, to determine where the card was issued and by whom. If the customer claims to be residing in the UK, for example, but the card was issued by a financial institution in a different country, this could be of concern.
- Verify the billing address and three-digit security code on the back of the card at the time of processing the transaction.
- If the goods are being collected, always ask to see the physical card used to make the payment. Ensure that the card number matches against the details used at the time the transaction was processed.
Whilst the above don't offer any protection against a chargeback, but they can be useful indicators of fraud.