Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Restaurant Scams in Atlanta

This weekend we had dinner at an Indian restaurant. My bill came as 37$ for the food we consumed for 29$ (11+ 15 + 3). The additional 8$ includes the sales tax and 20% service charge. (We were a group - but asked for individual bills). Since there was already a 20% service charge, I put 0$ on the tip. I clearly also indicated 37$ as the total in the bill (37 + 0.00 = 37).

Initially, my bank showed 37$ as pending. Now it shows 43$ as the completed amount. Mistakenly, or intentionally, the restaurant charged 6$ as the tip. I have a hard time to believe this is an honest mistake, since I also wrote down the total amount as 37$, after putting 0$ under the tip.

Also, a 20% service charge for a lousy service was not something I was planning to do. The food was below average too - and overpriced. Of course, from the menu, it looked 29$ for two, and with sales tax and 20% mandatory service charge, it came to 37$. Add the 20% service charge, why would I pay another 6$ to make a 40% tip in total for this below-average experience? Seriously?!

The line left in the bill in addition to the auto-charged 20% service fees is a classic case of a double-tipping scam, a variant of gratuity scams. That is, tricking you to tip more, after they have already made a mandatory tip of 20% from you!

I have disputed this additional 6$ charge with my bank. The bank said, generally, they charge for the disputes, though they can make it free for me this time since this is my first dispute. However, they recommended to contact the restaurant and resolve this dispute with them.

So I called them. Judging from the voice, the first guy to answer the call was the waiter who served us (the second one). I explained to him my situation. He insisted I visit the restaurant with the bill to get a refund. He pretended that he could not find their copy of the receipt, while I was waiting for him searching through the records. He also verified what I had, where we sat down, and how much each cost, etc. Like security questions. :P I told him "I am busy to come to the restaurant to get the refund." when he repeated as if that is the only way. He said, "come on, you have time to call for 6$, and you tell me you are busy?" sarcastically. His intention was to shame me and make me give up. Now I realized he was the one who intentionally made the 0 to 6$ to get the 6$ for himself. I told him that I have already disputed this with the bank. Then he said, "Ok, give me your name and phone number. We will call you back if we find out what you say is correct". Then he also asked me to spell my name! Come on. :D He was also very unapologetic.

Within a few minutes, they called back. This time it must be a senior or a manager. He was polite and apologetic, and he accepted that it was their mistake. He said, "Your zero gave the one who entered to put a 6" (not sure what he meant. Did he mean the employee was a fraud or was it an honest mistake? It was unclear). He said they would send me a cheque for the 6$.

Update: I received a cheque from the restaurent on the 28th/Friday, 3 days from the 25th/Tuesday since I complained. This issue is resolved!

Anyway, lesson learned. Next time, I would not put 0.00 $ and write the same amount down, if I choose not to tip. I always tip. But not when a 20% service charge is already added to my bill. I would make sure just to cut the section standing for "tip" if I were to give no tip!

Luckily I paid attention. I am not sure how many customers lost their money to this scam.

1. Keep your receipts safe, especially when the waiter takes your card away from your view, and especially when there is a potential for them to seek a tip from your card.

2. Check your bank accounts online every day, and keep track of the balance, to make sure there are no weird transactions.

3. Report to the bank instantly if you find something weird.

4. Be extra vigilant if you are a tourist. You cannot spend time and money making international calls, and your bank may have limited control over a foreign transaction. Also, if your transaction is in a different currency, it will make the things even more complicated. If I were not living in Atlanta, even if they send me a cheque, I won't be able to receive it anyway - giving me no choice other than to give up.

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