We’ve all received heart-breaking e-mails from far-away ministers in disgrace, widows left with controversial wills, or missionaries hiding in an African jungle or somewhere in Asia who have put their trust in you and selflessly offer millions of dollars to those of us willing to share their bank account information with them. Their far-fetched fanciful stories are now fangless jokes.
 
But here’s a novelty that specifically targets personal chefs, swindling them not by the millions of dollars –which they most likely don’t have – but badly enough with a couple of thousands.
 
He goes by the names of Abraham Curtis, Luis Correa and more recently by the monikers Anthony Stevens or even Paul Klee.  He writes the kind of e-mails every personal chef dreams of receiving – spelling mistakes included −, from Scotland, Nigeria or California, and seeks out chefs in different cities in the US, from coast to coast.
 
His or Her persona is a businessman/ woman seemingly with lots of money who comes from Colombia, Great Britain or the United Arab Emirates (rich and exotic countries, of course) with his or her – large − family for a six week vacation to Winter Park, Miami, New York City, Los Angeles, Mountain View, CA, Chelmsford or anywhere else where he can find a personal chef able to cater to his family’s yen for gastronomy.
 
Curtis, a.k.a. Correa/Stevens/Klee, is a busy person with incredibly stringent dietary needs, no moral qualms and the capacity to make demands and send worthless personal checks to chefs eager to go the extra mile to please a new customer.
 
Like Chef Shannon from Mountain View CA who, according to her testimony in the comments section of www.southfloridagourmet.com  lost $2,500 to this scam. “I, too,” she writes, “was suckered in due to weak economic factors. I was scammed out of $2,500 and have recently become acquainted with another chef in the Rocky Mtn. region who was also targeted.”
 
When Nicole Weiss, a personal chef working in New York City, received an email from Curtis earlier this year, she quickly responded with a series of questions to verify that he would be a good fit for her business. A Google search of his name led her to www.SouthFloridaGourmet.com , where Erik Mathes – then a personal chef in South Florida  and a contributor to the Eating Out Section– recounted his experience with a similar scam. His article was followed by many comments from personal chefs across the country mentioning Curtis’ emails. Mathes’ story detailed his interactions with the man a.k.a. Curtis, although at that time – exactly two years ago −, he went by Luis Correa, one of his many aliases.
 
Then Weiss finally heard back: “I got an email from him about a week later that basically looked like it had been copied and pasted from what everyone else was getting,” she said. “There was a listing of all the foods that they do and do not eat, things that I’ve never even heard of before. It was in such detail, that it seemed outlandish.”
 
Another chef − who prefers to remain anonymous but couldn’t resist sharing his or her webpage: http://www.DineWith9.com and http://www.PhoneAChef.com − wrote:  “We received the same scam email a few days ago from Abraham Curtis for his family vacation. Once we told him that his deposit by check had to be made 14-days prior to start of service (this is the time the bank requires for out-of-state/country to clear the system), we never heard from him again. This is our standard policy.”
How it works: Curtis’ overpayment scam is a popular choice for internet scammers. The perpetrator will reach out to elicit some sort of service from a provider, and set up a scenario where he mails out a fraudulent check for an amount greater than what he owes. He then asks the victim to pay someone else with the difference. When the victim pays the third party with his own funds, as requested, the scammer gets away with their money and the fraudulent check will never clear.

Vince Likar, executive director of the United States Personal Chefs Association, says that people in service industries are more vulnerable to scams like this because they rely on their good name and ability to deliver -- even on unusual requests.
 
“Because personal chefs want to fulfill their customers’ needs, they’re willing to work with them on many levels. So, their desire to provide a service to their clients will lead them down that path,” he said during a phone interview.
 
Likar also notes that email scams like these have become much more commonplace over the past six or seven years, likely due to the increased reliance on digital communications in the workplace.  He advises chefs who receive any suspicious emails to try to investigate the person as much as possible and to try to confirm as much information as needed, such as where they live and work. And, of course, never cash a suspicious check.
 
Likar also recommend that if you have been a victim of a similar scam, to report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Division at http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx
 
Your best scenario though is not to fall into the frying pan.  Send us your story in the comment section of this article.

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