BRIGHTON, Colo. (KDVR) — La Estrellita has had its doors open in Brighton going on 36 years. But just last week, the popular Mexican spot was the target of a well-thought scam.

“They called our host stand. Our host answered, who is only 15 years old,” said Gina Von Ah, the owner of La Estrellita.

Von Ah said last Thursday, scammers called posing as FedEx and told the hostess they had a delivery coming from her general manager Crystal. She said the scammers even knew several of the employees’ names.

“They told her Crystal had a surprise for our two other employees, whose names they mentioned,” Von Ah said. The “surprise delivery” was intended for the current manager on duty, Von Ah said.

Phone scam asks for money through card, app

Von Ah said the hostess stayed on the phone with the scammers for nearly an hour, while she believed she was trying to help her manager. She said at times during the call, the scammers pretended to be on the other line with her manager.

“They said, ‘Wait a minute, hold on, Crystal is calling right now. Let me answer this and get right back to you.’ Then stated, ‘She’s wondering if you can use your credit card and she will pay you back as soon as she gets here,'” Von Ah said.

The hostess she said attempted to send $1,000 through a third-party app the scammers asked her to download. But Von Ah said the hostess’ card wouldn’t work, so she asked another employee, a male server, to help.

“The host Venmoed $1,000 over to him. Then they (the scammers) took all $3,000 out of his account,” Von Ah said.

The scammers then started to ask for more money, and that’s when the employees told Von Ah something seemed off. She said they hung up and called his bank right away to cancel the charge, but at that point, she said it was too late because the cash was sent through a third-party app.

“These kids are good kids. They didn’t deserve this,” Von Ah said.

Von Ah started a GoFundMe to help raise back the $3,000 for the employees. If you’d like to donate, you can do so here.

How scammers target unwitting victims

FOX31 and Channel 2 asked the Better Business Bureau how scammers make something like this happen.

Keylen Villagrana with the BBB said that given the elaborate story the scammer came up with, they really took their time to learn all the ins and outs of the business — most likely using more than one tactic and tool:

  • Phishing Scam. An employee may have clicked on a phishing email that downloaded malware/a virus that captures sensitive information about the business. Their email accounts may have been exposed and the scammer was able to see the employee’s plan to take some time off outside of the country.
  • Social Media Accounts. Once the scammer knew the employees’ full names and their employer, they may have looked them up on social media and put connected the dots. Some consumers do share more intricate details on their social media than others (We always recommend posting about any vacations until after you’ve taken it, or double-checking the privacy settings.)
  • They may have used additional methods such as calling or emailing “as a customer” to learn everyone’s roles. OR there is a possibility the scammer may be someone the business or its employees personally know.

The BBB also passed along a link to help keep your small business safe.