Siesta Village businesses are continuing to grapple with the use of fraudulent credit cards, several members reported during the Sept. 4 meeting of the Siesta Key Village Association.
“We’ve been dinged a few times,” Keith Cipielewski, co-owner of the Siesta Key Oyster Bar, said in opening the discussion.
Another incident had happened just the previous day, he said. In that case, however, Cipielewski said, the card was shown as approved when staff swiped it through the card reader after the customer offered it for payment.
“I don’t know if there’s a ring going on. We’re keeping close tabs on it,” he added.
“There is definitely a ring going on, and all the restaurateurs need to be aware,” SKVA President Russell Matthes agreed.
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office reported the arrest in early August of two men who allegedly were using fraudulent credit cards to buy gift cards and other items throughout Siesta Village.
The report said the men had seven debit cards altogether that were believed to be fraudulent.
One of the men was from Port Orchard, Wash., while the other had no known local address.
Recently, Matthes told the SKVA members, a woman had emailed him with an order for fruit trays to serve 150 people. He added that she had advised him she’d have a courier pick up the order. At first she asked for four trays, he said; then, she increased the number to 120. He thought that was strange, he said, so he asked her to call him.
She wrote back at that point to say she was hearing-impaired, Matthes said. That was when he figured the woman was trying to pull a scam, he added.
Matthes is co-owner of the Daiquiri Deck Raw Bar in Siesta Village and on St. Armands.
Bob Kirscher, co-owner of the three Broken Egg restaurants, including the one on Avenida Messina in the Village, said he recently had had someone try to pull a similar scam as the one Matthes had described. This person wanted to order 150 sandwiches, he said. His response, he added, was to ask for cash upfront.
“I’ve had the same phone calls,” said Kay Kouvatsos, co-owner of Village Café.
Cipielewski said he wondered whether the fraudulent credit card usage was related to the string of thefts Sheriff’s Sgt. Scott Osborne had reported during the Aug. 7 SKVA meeting.
Last month, Osborne had told the members that sheriff’s deputies had recorded a number of thefts from Chevy Impalas. He pointed out that those cars are frequently offered as rental cars in Florida, and the thieves seemed to know exactly how to get into them to steal valuables.
An undercover Sheriff’s Office operation was unsuccessful in catching any of the perpetrators, Osborne said at the time.
Although the Sheriff’s Office had video surveillance of apparent suspects going to area malls and using credit cards reported stolen in those cases, Osborne said, a different person had shown up in each video. Still, Osborne had said, the Sheriff’s Office suspected a burglary ring was behind the incidents.
Cipielewski told the SKVA members this week, “We’ve pretty much made it a policy now,” that if a customer wants to use a credit card to pay a bill greater than $100, the customer has to provide a photo ID with the credit card.
Wendall Jacobson of Beach Bazaar said he had posted a sign in his store, saying photo ID was required with any credit card purchase.
Beach Bazaar recently had experienced an incident, he added, in which someone had used a VISA gift card that was coded with the numbers of a credit card belonging to a person in the state of Washington.
Kirscher pointed out that his restaurant staffs generally accept a credit card if a woman’s name is on it and a man with the same last name is using it, for example, or if a child comes up to pay with a card that has the same last name on it as the child’s, with the assumption the child is a family member — as long as the card is approved.
However, he said, “I’ve gotten stung on a couple of those.”
Cipielewski reported that just the day before, a customer at SKOB had given a server a debit card with numbers imbedded in it by a laser, instead of raised numbers on it that could be imprinted on a receipt with a mechanical card machine.
“These banks are really making it difficult for us,” Cipielewski said.
That’s why the businesses’ credit card fees were so high, Matthes said.
Kouvatsos stressed that all restaurant and bar owners should “be alert.”