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How Heston Blumenthal’s Restaurant and Yotam Ottolenghi’s Firm Became Victims of a Cloning Scam

Fraudsters are opening fake restaurants with names identical to a popular restaurant chain.
Cover Image Source: Chef Heston Blumenthal arrives on the sand carpet at Australia House | Getty Images | Photo by Stuart C.
Cover Image Source: Chef Heston Blumenthal arrives on the sand carpet at Australia House | Getty Images | Photo by Stuart C.

Scammers are getting innovative and coming up with new ways to fraud the public and businesses alike. In a recent scam type operating in the B2B space, fraudsters are opening fake restaurants with names identical to a popular restaurant chain and duping both the suppliers and the clients. This is a kind of identity theft scam, and mostly the restaurants owned by renowned chefs are being targeted to earn the most out of the fraud. Heston Blumenthal, followed by Yotam Ottolenghi, and the Ritz are the latest additions to the fraud, per BBC.

Image SOurce: Pexels|Photo by Cottonbro Studio
Unveiling the restaurant scam (representative image) | Pexels | Photo by Cottonbro Studio

Unveiling the restaurant scam

Fraudsters in the United Kingdom have come up with an identity theft scam where they steal the identity of an established restaurant brand. The scammers set up the businesses online and registered them with the Companies House, the official government agency that maintains the register of companies in the United Kingdom. To make the fraud look legitimate, they even mention the same address where the original restaurant is operating. Once registered, the scammers then withdraw the overdraft amounts from the bank accounts that they had opened up for the duplicate restaurant. In some scenarios, they even order valuable items from suppliers, who think it to be an authentic order coming from a reputed restaurant and ship it without any prior payment. The scammers collect the goods and run away with the money stolen from the bank as well as with the goods procured from the suppliers causing hefty losses to both the banks and the other businesses.

How scammers easily pull off these frauds

Fraudsters have identified that the human eye tends to skip some letters and recognize the words with some familiar words. So, they misspell the names of the popular restaurants by just one letter, which the human eye fails to pick up, inadvertently enabling scammers to successfully open a fake company. For instance, "Dinner By Heston Blumenthall" is a fake name registered by scammers where they put an extra “l” at the end of Blumenthal. In the case of Ottolenghi, the scammers opened a clone business with an extra “i” at the end. Yotam Ottolenghi's firm in an official statement has vowed to take 'robust action' against impersonators after a business named Ottolenghii Limited was created.

Chef Yotam Ottolenghi poses at A Mediterranean Odyssey hosted by Yotam Ottolenghi as a part of the Bank of America Dinner Series during the Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival Presented By FOOD & WINE at Bank of America Building on October 17, 2014 in New York City.|Getty Images| Photo by Dave Kotinsky
Chef Yotam Ottolenghi poses at A Mediterranean Odyssey | Getty Images | Photo by Dave Kotinsky

The Companies House, though a government body, has been deemed unfit to handle such cases by many experts. The scammers get the details of the directors from social profiles available online and use them while registering the companies. Sometimes innocent people, too, are made victims when their publicly available data is used to make a forged profile and register as directors. In one such case, Steven, a 34-year-old chef based out of the UK has been astonished as well as frightened by the fact that scammers have opened 39 fake restaurants with him as director for all of those. He got to know about the fraud when he started receiving notification letters from the banks and the Companies House for the restaurants which he had never heard of.

The Companies House is gearing up to tackle this new wave of fraud and is working on upgrading the process through which companies get registered in the United Kingdom. The new process would require those submitting the information on behalf of the company to validate their identity. Even the company directors would need to verify their identity before the company gets registered. Introducing these process changes is expected to take at least one and a half years. Till then, businesses and banks need to be more vigilant before entering into any transaction with a new business.