Scammer targets local businesses by pretending payment isn’t working

A scammer is targeting businesses in South King County and South Seattle. The thief pretends his payment doesn’t work and asks to manually punch in his card number on the point of sale, or checkout device. Then he refunds himself more than $1,000.

As King County Sheriff’s detectives investigate, one victim - Winnie’s Ethiopian Coffee and Deli - is now trying to warn others.

Owner Winnie Meshesha said she’d never heard about this type of scam and lost $1,300 earlier this month. She warned several other business owners – and about a week later, the same scammer showed up at her friend’s shop trying the same tactic.

Now she’s speaking out.

“It makes me mad and it makes me sad too,” Meshesha said. “He looks healthy and young and could work – but he’s not.”

She said the man came in on a Thursday morning and ordered food. But when it came time to pay, he said his Apple Pay wouldn’t connect.

“You have to enter my card number manually,” Meshesha said. “And I said okay give me. And he said it’s in my phone.”

She said he kept insisting he wanted to put in the number.

“And I said ok,” Meshesha said. “I don’t know, I turned the monitor to him, and he kept touching (the card), and beep, beep. I said do you need some help?”

That’s when the suspect said he didn’t have the money and needed to get it from his car.

“I feel something (wrong),” Meshesha said. “And I go to a transaction. And he already go to refund page, and he took like $1,300.”

In the surveillance video, you can see her running out of the shop after him.

“And when I ran out, he was in the white car and he said I’ll kill you,” Meshesha said. “And I just go back to my shop.”

She said she tried to contact both Key Bank, as well as Clover, the maker of the point-of-sale device, but both said they could not refund her money.

Something similar happened to Macadons, a macaron and ice cream shop, in Renton last June.

They also lost more than $1,000 to someone pretending to be a customer whose payment isn’t working right. Store owner Michael Huynh said the man’s payment appeared to not be working. When his employee said they could punch it in manually, the man asked to do it himself because of security concerns.

“Of course, we’re super trusting and said OK sure, here’s the POS (point of sale) you can enter it yourself,” Huynh said. “And they had it for a while and she got kind of suspicious.”

Renton police have some advice.

“Don’t let them have access to any of your electronics,” said Meeghan Black, a communications manager for Renton Police. “You just say I’m sorry. That’s difficult for people to do.”

Police also advise you to trust your gut.

“Tell your employees, if there’s something that feels off – like why would they need to input their credit card information manually? It just doesn’t feel right,” Black said.

Meanwhile, because Mesheda has warned fellow friends and business owners, it helped stop another restaurant from becoming a victim.

The owner of Kebana Restaurant and Market said the same suspect walked into their restaurant a week after he targeted Winnie’s, wearing the same coat. When he asked to punch in his own number, she said no – and he left.

If you know who the suspect is, call the King County Sheriff’s Office. The case number is C24004712.

As for why police can’t trace the refund back to the suspect – it’s apparently not that simple – but investigators did not detail how the scam works.