ENCORE: West Des Moines Restaurateur Doing His Own Detective Work on Credit Card Fraud Cases
Eastern Buffet’s William Wong is reassuring customers that the suspects have been fired and safeguards have been put in place. Authorities say about 30 victims have now come forward since Patch broke the story.
No one wants to get to the bottom of a credit-card fraud case more than Eastern Buffet owner William Wong.
That includes West Des Moines police detectives working the case, the ever-increasing tally of victims stunned by unauthorized credit card charges of $500 and $800 and $1,000, and the restaurant servers getting suspicious looks from diners wondering if their account numbers are safe.
Since Patch broke the story last week about the credit card fraud, more victims have stepped forward and now number about 30, police spokesman Lt. Jim Barrett said Monday.
At the same time, fewer customers have walked through the doors of the restaurant, a cavernous 15,000-square-foot space at 4001 Westown Pkwy. that has housed a string of restaurants in the past decade, including Mondo’s and, most recently, Joseph’s Steakhouse.
“We lost some customers,” Wong, who also has Eastern Buffet restaurants in Minnesota and Fort Dodge, said in a telephone interview with Patch.
Wong says he’s a victim, too — of deceit by a pair of now-fired employees who showed up just after the restaurant’s late-March opening, at a time when it was at its busiest, and applied for jobs.
What Wong knows now is that the names and Social Security numbers used by the pair, two Chinese nationals who Wong said claimed to have come from California, were phony.
“That Was Not Us”
Wong is so determined to help police track down the pair that he’s sent surveillance photos of them, both believed to be Chinese nationals, to the Chinese Consulate to help determine their real identities. Immigration officials in California have also been notified, Wong said.
“We hope we can catch them right away, and find out their real names,” he said.
In the meantime, Wong and his staff are reassuring customers that if they swipe their cards at the cashier’s desk, their account information is not accessible to anyone at the restaurant.
“We are doing whatever we can to reassure them,” Wong said. “That was not us.”
Wong said he’s also changed his hiring practices, requiring both Social Security numbers or a passport before he puts new staff on the payroll.
Statewide Spending Spree
It’s unknown how elaborate the scheme is or many people potentially have access to the victims’ financial information. Unauthorized charges of thousands of dollars – often to buy gift cards, police believe – were made or attempted at primarily Walmart and Target stores around the state, including those in West Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, Cedar Falls and Ames.
The scheme apparently involved the pair writing down numbers and other account information and, in at least one case, possibly making a replica of the credit card.
One victim told police he ate at the restaurant on May 6 and that a young male employee took the card to another room to swipe it, which the customer thought was odd because there was a credit-card terminal in the room where he was seated. Later, the customer learned that his credit card was fraudulently used twice in West Des Moines at a Walmart and Target. He’s out more than $1,500.
In another case, a victim who’s out $1,000 reported a representative of his credit card company advised that a replica of his card may have been made because the suspect swiped a card when the numbers were used at a Walmart somewhere in Iowa.