Beware of Those Pleasant Thieves

For many people, it’s getting tougher and tougher to make a living these days. It’s never been easy — my wife and I both grew up in struggling blue collar families — but there is no doubt about it, people feel squeezed.

In particular, it’s hard to be a food server (i.e. waiter/waitress): Bad hours, rude customers and in most cases, low income. But I’m sorry, getting squeezed doesn’t justify cheating your fellow human being. Among the many new terms in our American lexicon, there is one that is new to me — tipping fraud. The practice involves rewriting the tip that the customer wrote on the credit card slip. Usually, a small amount, but highly irritating.

This has happened at least four times to me in the last year or so:

  • An Italian restaurant on Main St. in downtown Walnut Creek, CA.
  • Another Italian restaurant in downtown Lafayette, CA, near Mt. Diablo and Moraga Rd.
  • A rather high-end Italian restaurant on Upper Grant Ave., San Francisco.
  • A Jewish deli in Sherman Oaks, CA.

Granted, we often eat Italian food. But we eat Asian food even more often, and it’s never happened to us in an Asian restaurant, nor Middle Eastern, Mexican and so on.

And judging from the number of entries that come up when entering “tipping fraud” into Google, this has become commonplace. And likely most victims never even notice it.

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15 thoughts on “Beware of Those Pleasant Thieves

  1. I have almost entirely stopped using my credit card, mostly because of security concerns… everybody and his brother is constantly getting “cyber breached” these days… but NOT using a credit card also comes in handy to fight this (tip fraud) problem also.

    Pay cash. Then you know how much you’ve spent when you leave the restaurant, no doubt about it. (Also, as my dear old dad taught me, quite a lot of the people who receive tips would prefer to get them in cash. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why.)

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  2. Hmmm. That might explain what the Beach Chalet in San Francisco just pulled this on me, marking up by $5 what I believe I signed off on.
    Nice to know it has a name.

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    • Got to the bottom of this with Wells Fargo’s assistance (amazing what they can demand of vendors and forward to the card holder.) The restaurant entered my blurred tip incorrectly and let stand a likely machine computed total instead of what I had written. So an understandable even if odd error as “Closer Inspection” would have caught it on their part.

      The moral of the story is write clearly and transcribe all details to your customer copy.

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  3. Make security complaints to Visa/Mastercard/Amex directly when possible (Not that complicated, but I am not going to fill up your comments on how) and at minimum the bank issuer. ALWAYS challenge and ALWAYS keep your receipts.

    As someone who travels often, I find the SFO area to be the worst. NYC second, Chicago third, LA fourth. I go to Detroit often and as tough as it is there (Cleveland too), never once had this problem.

    I’ve been nailed several times in Asian restaurants in NYC. When I confronted the owner at one the next day, she went ape-sh*t on me and I called the police. (Paid for a group, so my tip was $78 marked up to $98.) I am sure that the owners are in on some of these scams and really wonder if the employees are getting the “extra tip.”

    Only criminals trying to get away with stealing a little here and a little there.

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  4. I eat out with distressing frequency and have, to the best of my knowledge, never fallen prey to this. But California leads the country in innovation, it is said, so we may yet catch up. I can see how wide disparities in wealth – very visible in so much of California- can create fertile ground for justifying these small acts of redistribution, especially in our new age of moral flexibility. Nothing illustrates this disparity better than a restaurant’s wait staff and its patrons.

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  5. Interesting.  Thanks.  Just goes to show you how greedy people are and how they will try anything they can get away with in this case they can claim it was a mistake when they later enter the tip amount.  I would think this happens mostly in restaurants where the waiters and waitresses do not split/share the tips.  After you leave the restaurant they are required to enter the tip amount and the POS device often captures an image for dispute resolution (the merchant will have to scan signed receipt otherwise).  They have to change two amounts: the tip and the total or else that transaction will not reconcile at night when the restaurant sends all the days transactions up.  The beauty of that is that it is more indefensible to say you changed two  digits a and b  that looked like x and y (vs one digit). But you must complain to your credit card conpany.  The credit card company can and will charge the merchant a large dispute fee (no idea how many warnings) and if the merchant cares they will fire the employee and/or start watching for this.  I assume the merchant is not complicit.  I would also call the merchant and alert them to this.  I imagine in the future we will get text alerts on tip based credit card transactions.  Note that Tipping cash does not help because these are known as visa2  transactions designed for restaurants where the merchant gets to enter the final tip (even $0) and tiotal amt.  Note I worked at Heartland Payment System for 4 years and they had more restaurants across the country than any other processor.  I am no longer a subject matter expert in these areas esp Fraud.  How much total overage did you suffer in these 4 restaurants?

    Sent on a Sprint Samsung Galaxy Note® 3

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    • “…Just goes to show you how greedy people…”

      There’s a funny scene in some Woody Allen movie (I forget which one) in which he is reliving a chilhood memory of yet another argument between his parents. It goes something like this:

      Father: You fired the maid??
      Mother: She was stealing!
      Father: So? She’s colored. Who has she got to steal from if not from us?
      Mother: I married an idiot!

      The point I wanted to make is just this: Let’s say that Mitt Romney was right and 47% of everybody in this country is receiving some sort of government assistance… most, surely, deservedly. So the waiter who served Norm, and the waiters who serve all of us who have enough dough to go out to dinner, now and again, are probably just barely scraping by.

      I do not approve of either theft or fraud, but let’s face it folks… Getting all steamed about people on the very lowest end of the socio-economic scale stealing a few nickels, now and again, is putting the emphasis in the Wrong Place. When, if ever, we start jailing bankers, like all those execs at Wells Fargo… you know…. the BIG crooks… THEN we can get all hot and bothered about the little thieves.

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      • I remember that line in the movie. 🙂

        But I strongly disagree with your point. As I said in my post, I know what it is to be poor — a lot poorer than most waitstaff. I would never steal from the customers. Sorry.

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  6. Yes, I’ve become quite careful about how I write the numbers, so it would be obvious if somebody scribbled in a new number. But a “fat finger” during a data-entry step is just as easy, and leaves no marks.

    A few years ago, a credit card scammer duplicated a card from a co-worker, then enjoyed a few “high-priced meals” at a Mexican restaurant… With $30 tips. Naturally, the tips were partially refunded in cash. The tipper and the waiter both agreed to take advantage of the situation.

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  7. Slightly off-topic but related to “credit” nonetheless…

    Regarding yesterday’s Equifax data breach announcement [1], not only does Equifax have 235 H-1B records on file for the past four years [2], but they, at least at one time, had the “Vice President, Cyber Threat Center” on an H-1B visa. I might find that somewhat amusing if I was sure my personal identifying information wasn’t disclosed during the breach.

    [1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-09-07/equifax-says-cyber-intrusion-affected-143-million-customers
    [2] http://h1bdata.info/index.php?em=equifax&job=&city=&year=All+Years

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    • When I heard about the breach I thought at once that it was an H1B. Now I hear they want a Bitcoin ransom and I’m more certain it was an inside job.

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