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Restaurant closes after fraudsters posing as officials steal thousands

A restaurant has been forced to close after losing £50,000 to scammers who posed as officials after a fraud scare.

As an experienced business owner, Natalia Ribbe had never imagined she would be the type of person to fall victim to fraudsters. But now Barletta, the popular restaurant she co-founded in Margate, has closed for good after it was targeted by a particularly devious authorised push payment (APP) scam.

It occurs when an individual or company is deceived into sending money to criminals posing as genuine payees.

Ribbe, 37, has described the ordeal as “mentally and emotionally exhausting” as she urged other victims of fraud not to feel ashamed.

She said she had been looking through her accounts in October when she saw some small charges she believed to be fraudulent. But a short time later Ribbe, who established Barletta in 2019 with her co-founder, Jackson Berg, received a phone call from someone claiming to be an official helping to secure her accounts.

“They talk really fast at you, they use all the right language, they give you their names and identification numbers, they tell you all the worst-case scenarios,” Ribbe said. “You just want to get out of this ‘panic bubble’ and say yes to everything to try and get out of it.

“They had me on the phone for about five hours, passing me between different ‘departments’. It was so well thought through. At no point did I think ‘this seems irrational’.”

The scammers persuaded Ribbe to move money between her accounts with two different banks before sending it on. She said: “They also had me set up these new accounts, and named them the same as my business accounts, so it looked like I was sending money from Barletta to another Barletta account.”

It was only afterwards, when a scheduled call never took place, that Ribbe felt uneasy and contacted her banks, who confirmed she had been a victim of fraud. “That’s when my world came crumbling down,” she said.

Scammers ultimately defrauded the business out of £50,000 and Ribbe has only received £2,231 back from Tide, the bank she held the money with before it was transferred to the criminals.

A friend set up a fundraising page, but Ribbe felt uncomfortable asking people for money during a financial crisis and the appeal was shut down. Barletta served its last meal on Friday.

“It had made it an impossible situation for us to trade out of,” Ribbe said. “The rise in energy bills has destroyed us and any hope we had of clinging on to trading ourselves out of this winter was completely wiped away. That money was basically already spent — it was to pay rent, utilities and staff.”

She said the impact on her has been “completely horrendous” and has affected her sleeping and eating.

Ribbe said. “I don’t have money or jobs to give them [my team] any more, and that’s been the worst part. They are my friends and family and to have to tell them it was over was really horrible.”

Many victims of fraud are embarrassed to talk about it, and Ribbe has been open about her experience to raise awareness and lessen the stigma.

“I’ve got a wealth of worldly experience under my belt and it happened to me,” she said.

Tide said: “We are very sorry for the loss the owners of Barletta have suffered. We appreciate this type of scam is incredibly hard on small businesses.

“In this case, once we were informed of the fraud, we contacted the bank where the money had been transferred on the same day and were able to recover part of the money that was left in the account. Unfortunately, the rest of the money had been moved on and we were unable to recover it.”

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Restaurant closes after fraudsters posing as officials steal thousands

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