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FOX 8 Defenders: JP small business owner shares consumer warning after disturbing phone call

A Jefferson Parish small business owner shares details of a disturbing phone call that escalated into a threat to one of her young employees. She’s turned to the FOX 8 Defenders to spread an important consumer warning.
Published: May. 13, 2021 at 10:07 PM CDT
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River Ridge, La. (WVUE) -Known for its fresh, light and tasty treats, Tutti Frutti along Jefferson Highway in River Ridge, serves up yogurts, sno-balls and more.

A recent phone call to the frozen yogurt shop that owner Scarlett Paniagua described as disturbing has her warning young employees and other small businesses to be aware and alert.

“It could happen to you too and to protect the employees too.. and also an awareness to parents.. you know educate your kids,” Paniagua said.

According to her, a young female employee, who’s a high school student, was working the evening shift recently when she got an unusual call.

“The person that called identified himself as police and gave a badge number stating that there was someone in this store, stealing the past six months,” Paniagua explained. The so-called officer told the employee, he knew the owners and directed her to count the cash in the store. “She (employee) was following because he’s a deputy, an officer, he knows the owners so.. I’m gonna do what is told,” she said.

The man then asked if there were any gas stations or convenience stores around, and the teenage employee mentioned a nearby pharmacy. Reading a statement from the employee, Paniagua explained what happened next.

“He told me he was with the owners and I needed to leave the store with the money and arrive at Walgreens. They will verify the money amount and who I was and then put me on the phone with the owners,” Paniagua said.

The employee didn’t feel comfortable leaving the business and with cash in hand, and that’s when the caller got irritated and threatened her, according to Paniagua. “If she didn’t leave the store willingly like he was telling her, then he was gonna send two officers,” she said.

Paniagua says the man told her employee, he’d have her arrested. “They’re teenagers, high school students.. they’re gonna be like arrest me? for what?” Paniagua said.

So frightened, the employee hung up and immediately called the owner, Paniagua’s daughter, who rushed to the store and called 911. “While they (deputies) were here, that individual called again, and that’s when the police told my daughter what to say,” Paniagua said.

“In a situation like that, that is 100-percent of the time can be a scam. At no point is any respectable law enforcement agency gonna call a cashier at a business and tell them to count money.. really for any reason,” Captain Jason Rivarde with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office said.

He explained the department’s Criminal Intelligence Center is investigating the bogus, threatening phone call.

If investigators needed information, he says they’d go to a business in person. Plus in this case, the caller, trying to sound official, mentioned a badge number. “If you look at my badge, there is no number on my badge. Our badges don’t have badge numbers,” he said.

Rivarde says scammers often target the elderly or businesses that employ younger people and direct them to any kind of store that sells gift cards. “They’ll have them purchase the gift cards and have them give them the numbers on the gift cards where they can immediately pull the money off those cards.

Very rarely, and I can’t think of any instance where it’s been an actual attempt to physically harm someone,” Rivarde said.

Still, Paniagua worries what if? “She followed through the directions.. what if she would have followed through and met this person? who knows!” she said.

Now, she’s using this as a lesson to teach other employees and hopeful she can spread the word and prevent others from falling victim to a potential scam.

If you’ve got a consumer issue you’d like us to look into, call the FOX 8 Defenders staffed with volunteers from the National Council of Jewish Women, the NCJW, or fill out our online complaint form.

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