Mandarin-fluent Indian zi char stall owner loses $27k after ordering ingredients, wine for fake banquet

Christie Chiu
The Straits Times
Aug 10, 2023

The owner of a zi char stall in Ang Mo Kio received a dinner reservation for nine tables for both Sunday and Monday and thought a business boom was on the way.

But the “teacher” who made the reservation on behalf of his school became uncontactable after the ingredients and wine were ordered and paid for, and no one turned up on Sunday.

The estimated loss? $27,000. The teacher? A conman.

Mr Devid Retanasamy, 40, the owner and chef of the stall, Mr Blecky Seafood, has since made a police report.

Relating how he was scammed, the Indian cook who made a name for himself online for his ability to speak fluent Mandarin, told The Straits Times on Wednesday that he had received a WhatsApp message from a man on Saturday evening claiming to be a teacher at Fuchun Primary School.

Mr Retanasamy said the man told him the school wanted to host a staff dinner on Sunday at his stall. The man also said the school would host staff from the Ministry of Education (MOE) the following night, and reserved nine tables for each night.

The man also asked for a specific brand of red wine on behalf of the school principal, telling him to buy it from a supplier who sold six bottles of Amiral de Beychevelle (2019), a French wine, for $500. An initial order of five cartons was placed.

A purchase order seen by ST showed that the five cartons cost a total of $3,100 – which works out to $620 each. A check with online wine suppliers showed that a 2019 bottle of this wine sells for between $91 and $99.

Mr Retanasamy said after discounts, he paid $500 to the wine supplier for each of the five cartons, or $2,500 in total.

When Mr Retanasamy asked the man why he could not buy the wine himself, the man said there was a “conflict of interest”.

Although he was not familiar with the brand of wine, Mr Retanasamy said he bought five cartons anyway as instructed.

Speaking in Mandarin, he said: “I believe in trusting the customer when doing business, and he already booked so many tables and dishes.”

But the order kept getting cranked up. The man first increased the wine order to 20 cartons, then upped it again by another 15 cartons – all on the pretext that more people were attending the dinner. The wine bill alone went up from $2,500 to nearly $18,000.

Mr Retanasamy said he spent another $9,000 on ingredients for the dinner, which included pricey crab and other types of seafood.

The chef said the man sent him what turned out to be a fake PayNow receipt on Sunday afternoon that showed $14,795 “transferred” to him for the dinner. He was promised payment for the additional 15 cartons of wine.

But Mr Retanasamy said he grew suspicious when he did not see the transfer reflected in his bank account after two hours.

When asked, the man said the payment needed time to be approved by MOE, and that large sums could also take up to two days to be processed by the bank.

The chef said he called a friend who works at the bank, who confirmed that such procedures do exist.

His unease increased when all his text messages with both the man and the “wine supplier” disappeared suddenly.

At about 5pm that day, he received an alert from the police anti-scam centre, warning him that he had made transfers to a suspicious bank account and that he might have been scammed.

His worst fears came true when no one turned up for the dinner on Sunday. The money Mr Retanasamy spent has not yet been recovered.

When asked why he had trusted the man and the wine supplier, Mr Retanasamy said that he had spoken on the phone with both, and he even briefly heard the “principal” in the background during one of the calls.

“Their accents sounded Singaporean and the conversations all felt so real,” he said.

“We’ve done this kind of dinner before and I checked that the school really existed, so I thought it was okay,” said the chef.

In response to ST queries, Fuchun Primary School principal Eunice Lim said the school did not organise the dinner event in question, and has lodged a police report on the matter.

The so-called purchase order seen by ST showed that the wine was to be shipped to Mr Blecky Seafood by Dada Wines Storage, located in 65 Tuas Bay Drive.

Checks by ST found that a wine supplier named Dada Wines, registered under a company called Dada Logistics, is located in 65D Tuas Bay Drive.

When contacted, Dada Wines said it was “totally not aware” of the incident and this is the first time something like this has come to the company’s attention.

Mr Wilson Li, 39, the director of Dada Logistics, said: “We would like... to clarify with the public that we are innocent. Please be careful when you deal with strangers, ask for their full details and pay only after receiving the ordered goods.

“We are very sad to hear this (had) happened.”

Mr Retanasamy said: “This is a huge loss, I still need to cover rent and my employees’ salaries. I hope customers will continue to support me and that others will not fall for the same scam.”

Police investigations are ongoing.

At least five food and beverage (F&B) operators lost a total of at least $73,500 in July last year in such scams, the police said.

The police advise F&B operators to be alert to such scams and make checks before paying “suppliers” for off-menu items. F&B operators should also be cautious and avoid paying in advance when dealing with new suppliers. Instead, they should arrange to meet the suppliers and pay only after the goods have been delivered.

F&B operators should also search for online reviews of suppliers to check if they are legitimate before making a purchase, they added.

The Straits Times

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