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Scammers Are Using Fake Restaurant Instagram Accounts to Steal Money From Diners

The scheme attempts to get customers to either send money for a fake restaurant deal or to click on a phishing link

The Instagram logo on the screen of a phone Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images
Dianne de Guzman is a deputy editor at Eater SF writing about Bay Area restaurant and bar trends, upcoming openings, and pop-ups.

There’s a new scam targeting Bay Area diners on social media. It involves duping customers into sending money under the pretense of receiving a discount on a dinner or clicking a potential phishing link, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. After setting up fake Instagram accounts for real-life restaurants, scammers contact followers and offer purported discounts. In one example, scammers offered a customer a $15-per-person dinner special for John’s Grill in San Francisco — a deal that was discovered to be fake after the diner paid for two specials.

The scammers have impersonated restaurants and businesses of all sizes, the Chronicle reports, including John’s Grill, recently opened Dalida, pop-up Dabao Singapore, and Oakland bottle shop Alkali Rye. The scam accounts typically use account names similar to the business’ authentic social media handles. In the case of John’s Grill, the dupe account operated as @johnsgrillsf_, with the underscore being its only distinguishing feature from the real restaurant’s account @johnsgrillsf.

Other scammers using fake restaurant or business accounts, contact customers and entice them to click a link that — at least in the case of Dabao Singapore — prompts targets to reset their passwords, most likely leading to a phishing scam. Phishing is a way scammers attempt to steal passwords, banking account information, or social security numbers, oftentimes by tricking people into clicking a link that installs malware onto a computer or phone to steal sensitive information.

This isn’t the first time scammers have tried to target Bay Area restaurants, though it’s different than a scam that proliferated last year when restaurant owners were the target of would-be extortionists. In that scheme, businesses received a flurry of one-star Google reviews, then owners received an email asking for money in exchange for the fake reviews to be removed. It’s also a variation on a scam that targeted diners in 2018, during which scammers tricked people into buying tickets to a fake food festival, which cost anywhere between $15 to $105. The scammers then disappeared with the money before the event date.

The main course of action for restaurants and diners targeted by this most recent scam is to report the fake page to Instagram and to encourage others to do the same — though many business owners report Instagram is slow to respond, taking days or weeks to kick scammers off the platform. However, the issue has become so rampant that a Bay Area branding company is encouraging its clients to create backup accounts. Hala Hijazi with the San Francisco Human Rights Commission told the Chronicle that if Instagram doesn’t handle these fake business accounts, legislators “may have to get involved at some point.”