May 17, 2009

The Great Gift Card Scam

Within my first few months at my beloved Steakhouse and Saloon, I was a involved in a scandalous and dramatic staff meeting.
We were all rounded up one busy Friday night by a frantic and distraught manager, who told us there was an urgent and mandatory meeting the next morning at 8:30am, and that they would not allow anyone to miss it.

Of course, being the brand spanking FNG I knew I had no other option but to peel my possibly hung over ass out of bed, and slink into work earlier then I feel is ever acceptable. But once I heard the cause of all the commotion I was certainly happy that I came.

Over a year prior to the meeting all of our computers had been updated, and somehow with all of the changes a small error had occurred within the program that records and logs all gift card transactions, basically restoring all gift-cards to original purchase amount.

So for example, Bob buys a gift card for $50 big ones. Bob and his wife come in to eat, spend $45 bucks, and pay with the same gift card. I run the card, and the receipt shows a remaining balance of $5 dollars on the card, so I return it and wish them well. A week later Bob and his wife return and once again spend $45. Upon paying they hand me the same gift card, mentioning that there's something like $5 dollars left on it, and they will pay the difference with a credit card. I run the gift card, and low and behold it still has $50 dollars on it, I then return it mentioning that it still had $5 dollars remaining. And so on...

It took my brilliant managers almost a year to realize that about 15 different gift cards were being fraudulently used to rack up over 8 thousand dollars of food.

It is quite the unique situation. These guests were not initiators of the Gift Card Scam, rather they were grandfathered in. Can you imagine the surprise on Bob's face the second visit when he really thought there was only $5 dollars remaining on the gift card, but mysteriously there was more, and he would get a second meal free. You can imagine how he must have pondered the third trip into the restaurant with such a magic gift card. Would it work again? Well it did, it worked the next time, and the next time, and as long as he never spent more then $50 dollars, he would keep getting the card back, and although he was told there was only a few dollars remaining, he knew otherwise.

Bob, such a sneaky bastard.

Quite a traumatic situation watching the managers scramble to fix the error. I felt pretty bad for them watching the gravel at the owners feet, but I couldn't help thinking to myself that the whole issue should have been spotted much sooner.

Within a few days the error was fixed and all was back to normal, although the thieving assholes didn't know that.

Yesterday at work a foul smelling couple came into the restaurant. They sat down, and quietly ordered. I was a little annoyed at how awkward they were being as they refused to make eye contact. They purchased a bottle of wine, two entrees, and two desserts and had a bill of about $75 dollars. Before I even made it to their table with the bill, I noticed they had set out a gift card. When I went to retrieve it the man grumbled that there was about $100 dollars on it. I went to the machine to cash them out, and the card rang in as $0 dollars. I tried again, and still $0 bucks. I returned to the table and let them know about there misfortune, when they started harassing me. "Try it again. You didn't try hard enough." They pressured. So as they requested, I did try again, this time bringing back with me the receipt with the big fat zero. The lady look like she wanted to punch me. The man demanded to speak with a manager.

I intentionally eavesdropped on them as they alienated and disrespect my manager, saying the card was a gift, and that they couldn't afford to pay the $75 dollar bill. I watched as my manger retrieved the old gift card log to verify the card number and find out if there really was $100 dollars on it and gasped when she realized this particular card was one being used to steal over and over again from the restaurant.
She demanded they pay their current bill of $75 dollars, and that they never return to the restaurant or she would call the cops and have them arrested.
They paid, and then left, and I sat back feeling a little dissatisfied. We had caught them red handed, and there was no punishment. Sure they were publicly embarrassed, and booted from the restaurant, but it felt so anticlimactic.

I realized only later that this unfortunate situation could have no other ending. There was no way to track WHO exactly used that card over 50 times to steal food. It's their word against ours, and hey...maybe they really did get it as a gift.


purplegirl said...

Damn, people are shady! We had a gift card scandal earlier this year, but with an employee. She'd worked there for nearly ten years, and god knows how long she'd been doing this before getting fired.

Basically, there was a glitch in the computer where as soon as a gift card was scanned, it was activated--even before the ticket was paid. So this woman was activating gift cards ... and then using that gift card to pay that ticket. She did this to win a store competition for gift card sales, which had a weekly prize of a $50 gift card. She'd then use that gift card to buy a gift card, and that gift card to buy a gift card .... so at the end of the week she'd still have $50 to spend and would win another $50. And then she also, on the last day of the monthly contest, bought $500 worth of legitimate gift cards for her family members, but under her own name.

Also, at the time we were doing a special where every $50 gift card purchase got two $5 coupons. So every time she'd "buy" a gift card with itself, she'd get those coupons, which she then carried around in her apron. Whenever a customer paid cash, she'd use one of those coupons so she could pocket an extra $5.

It just amazes me the convoluted schemes people come up with--and that people would be willing to risk their jobs (after ten years, with this woman) for something to stupid.

G.H. said...

Isn't that amazing. I mean, you have to admit this gal you worked with was quite clever to think up such a scam. It's really to bad these people don't use their brains to think of legal and legit ways to make money, rather then to steal and thieve.
Time and time again however I am reminded of the worthlessness of humanity, and the fact that people just never cease to amaze me.

Anonymous said...

That is quite a deal with the Gift Cards and how it kept going on and on until these people were caught.

Aunty Pol said...

OMG..The audacity of it all. I guess the hubbs and I are freaks of nature ( in a good way ) because we've both worked in restaurants and have always paid the tip ( at least 15 % - we remember the days tips bought tp and eggs)in cash aside from the dollar amount value of a gift card used for food/bev selection.

Long time reqader de-lurking

Take care

Aunty Pol said...

sorry for the above typo

Modern Philodoxos said...

I am glad you commented on my blog. I love yours!

I have never encountered that, although I am continually amazed at the ingenuity people are capable of to be shady and cheap. God help servers.

G.H. said...

Modern said it perfect.
God help servers.
Thanks for reading.

Anonymous said...

Hair Stylist Goddess was ringing me out on her shop's new software that was supposed to save time and money (never listen to anyone from marketing). I could see the screen and noticed that she did not check the box for the eyebrow and 'stash waxing (sorry for the TMI). "HS Goddess, you didn't charge me for defurring my unibrow and fem'stash." She turned pale as a sheet as she suddenly realized that she'd been forgetting to check those boxes since software installation---now eight weeks past---and that I was the first client to mention it. This makes me so sad on many levels, not the least of which is that she's the owner and has years-long friendships with most of her clients.