WESTERLY — At least two dozen patrons of China Buffet Restaurant in The Crossings plaza on Franklin Street were targets of a credit card scam, Police Chief Edward St. Clair said Friday.
Police began to receive complaints from consumers regarding fraudulent charges on their credit cards last week, St. Clair said. Some card companies will immediately remove charges from a credit cardholder’s card, but others require filing a police report, he said.
The large number of complaints in a short period of time was unusual, according to St. Clair, who said the department is continuing to receive complaints.
As detectives began working with local banks to compare recent transactions of those cardholders, the investigation showed a common location visited by all credit and debit cardholders — China Buffet. Some of the charges go back to October.
It appears that credit cards were either skimmed using a device that plugs into a phone, or copied in some other way, St. Clair said. The card numbers can then be used to create a counterfeit card. Often, he said, the cards are used to purchase other debit or credit cards at convenience stores or other retail outlets, although some victims found charges for items such as electronics from Walmart on their statements.
Meanwhile, police went to China Buffet Thursday and seized the business’ computers, charge card machines and cash registers. Police searched the restaurant and patrons were told they could finish their meals and leave.
The restaurant, owned by Tong Lu, who owns a similar restaurant in East Greenwich, was allowed to remain open and no arrests have been made, St. Clair said. A forensic examination is being conducted on items seized from the building. A patron who dined at the restaurant Thursday night, who said there was a large crowd, noted that the restaurant was not accepting credit cards, “just cash.”
A woman answering the phone at the restaurant Friday afternoon said Lu was unavailable to speak and she was not proficient in English. When asked whether police had taken cash registers, credit card scanners and computers from the business, she said she couldn’t answer because of a language barrier.
The 8,700-square-foot restaurant is located on Airport Road, where the former Ume Seafood Buffet and Bar was housed.