MYNORTHWEST NEWS

Scammer steals $1,300 from Skyway shop using fraudulent refunds

Feb 21, 2024, 10:58 AM | Updated: 1:03 pm

A Skyway coffee shop owner is warning other businesses in the area after she said a man scammed her out of $1,300 through a fraudulent refund scheme.

Winnie Meshesha, who owns Winnie’s Coffee and Deli on Rainier Avenue South, said the man came into her shop around 7:45 a.m. on Feb. 8, and ordered breakfast. He then told her his payment app on his phone wasn’t working. That’s when he asked to type his own credit card information into the cash register – in this case, a digital point-of-sales (POS) tablet.

Surveillance video provided to KIRO Newsradio and MyNorthwest showed the man spent 2 1/2 minutes typing on the tablet before he turned it back to Meshesha, telling her he needed to get cash from his car.

Meshesha said she realized too late that he was actually using the machine to electronically issue multiple refunds to himself worth hundreds of dollars each.

“As soon as I saw that, when I go run out, he just tells me … ‘I’ll kill you,.'” she said. “And then he just goes to his car and he runs away.”

After the incident at her coffee shop, Meshesha reached out to other businesses to warn them not to allow the man to use their registers. They didn’t fall for it, Meshesha said, and they denied him service. In surveillance footage from those shops, given to KIRO Newsradio and MyNorthwest, a man wearing what appears to be the same jacket and mask is seen holding up his phone while talking to the cashiers.

Image: A man went into Winnie's Coffee and Deli on Rainier Avenue South on Feb. 8 and stole $1,300 through a fraudulent refund scheme.

A man went into Winnie’s Coffee and Deli on Rainier Avenue South on Feb. 8 and stole $1,300 through a fraudulent refund scheme. (Image from surveillance video provided by Winnie’s to Sam Campbell, KIRO Newsradio)

The King County Sheriff’s Office confirmed to KIRO Newsradio it is investigating the theft, but no suspects are in custody.

In the meantime, Meshesha said she has had no help recouping the financial loss.

“The bank, they say ‘You have to call the merchant,'” she said. “To get them, it took me three hours. And then, Key Bank, the merchant, they said, ‘Oh, you did it by yourself. This is not our responsibility. We (will) not reimburse that money.'”

Her business brings in just enough money to break even most days, she said, noting the impact to her neighborhood coffee shop is significant.

“This is really an honest mistake,” Meshesha said. “Nobody warned me, I didn’t know that happened.”

More on Washington crime: Boys who led police on car chase given different outcomes after court appearances

Similar scam perpetrated in Renton

As the Renton Police Department (RPD) explained in a June 2023 Facebook post, local law enforcement agencies have seen this type of scam practiced in the past.

Two young Black male suspects, (who RPD described as possibly speaking Somali), entered a Renton business and ordered several items off the menu. When it came time to pay, one suspect advised he couldn’t use Apple Pay because his phone screen was broken and asked if he could enter his card number manually into the POS machine.

From there, the employee became concerned after observing the suspect entering what appeared to be several different numbers into the machine. The employee then took the device from the suspect and called the store manager to the counter. Both suspects ran from the store after that.

Later, after a review, store employees discovered the suspect had conducted several “manual refund requests” on two different credit card numbers, for a total of $1,050. The involved employee advised the suspects were not using Apple Pay, because she was able to briefly observe both suspect’s phone screens which appeared to show a listing of several credit card numbers.

‘There’s no money’: Thieves break into driving school twice in 6 months

The department advised business owners to never allow a customer to manually enter credit card information into their POS device. They are, instead, suggesting store owners and employees direct customers who are unable to pay with a physical card or cash to a nearby ATM so they can get cash to complete their purchases. If employees see indicators a customer may be attempting to commit fraud by utilizing the businesses’ POS device, they were advised to cancel the sale and call 911 as soon as possible.

Contributing: Steve Coogan, MyNorthwest

You can read more of Sam Campbell’s stories here. Follow Sam Campbell on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

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Scammer steals $1,300 from Skyway shop using fraudulent refunds