Why police are finally looking into the Philly restaurant scammer case

Detectives are being made aware of “the hair lady” and her hustle.

The woman restaurateurs say is pulling 'the hair scam' at Waffles & Wedges Friday

The woman restaurateurs say is pulling 'the hair scam' at Waffles & Wedges Friday

Danya Henninger / Billy Penn
danya

Thanks to some quick action by a couple of small business owners, the Philadelphia Police Central Detective Division is opening a file on the woman who’s been repeatedly scamming Philly restaurants for cash.

The woman visited Waffles & Wedges near 15th and Pine on Friday afternoon and attempted to pull her usual ruse — which has prompted local restaurateurs to start calling her “the hair lady.”

Per Waffles & Wedges proprietor Andrea Capecci, the woman complained about a past order from two days ago having had a hair in it, and then demanded a cash refund, even though she did not have a receipt.

However, Capecci was aware of the existence of the hustle, thanks to Billy Penn’s previous articles and other restaurateurs’ warnings on social media. So as she directed an employee to look up the supposed bad order, Capecci ducked downstairs and called the police, then returned to the counter and did her best to stall until they arrived.

Just as the perpetrator was about to leave, two PPD officers showed up.

At first, the police were sure not why Capecci had called them for what seemed like a simple customer complaint. The woman denied any wrongdoing: “I just wanted my refund.” When Capecci explained that the woman’s appearance matched the security camera screengrab being circulated, the woman scoffed. “How do you know that’s me?” she said. “It’s not me.”

A screenshot from the security camera at Matt & Marie's in Dec. 2017

A screenshot from the security camera at Matt & Marie's in Dec. 2017

Matt & Marie's

Luckily for Capecci, reinforcements to back up her side of the story were on the way.

Because right after she’d called the cops, she also sent a text to Poi Dog co-owner Kiki Aranita, who was one of the first to report the scam. Aranita alerted Billy Penn, then literally ran from where she was doing business at City Hall toward Waffles & Wedges with hopes of confirming the culprit’s identity.

When Aranita arrived at Waffles & Wedges, the two police officers were not yet convinced the woman had done anything wrong.

“If you have a problem with a restaurant and think they aren’t refunding money when they should,” one of the officers told the woman, “you should file a complaint.”

But Aranita then stepped in to tell her story, and identified the woman as the same person who’d scammed her restaurants. She also began rattling off other restaurants she knew had been targeted, either successfully or unsuccessfully, which include:

  • Knead Bagels
  • Matt & Marie’s
  • Mac Mart
  • Rione
  • Agno Grill
  • El Fuego
  • Stargazy
  • Fuel
  • Chhaya
  • Rally
  • Samwich
  • Station Tap
  • Herman’s Coffee
  • Rival Bros.
  • Baby Blues BBQ
  • Wiz Kid
  • Bareburgers
  • Trader Joe’s

That’s when things became more official.

Officer Cottle of the Ninth District decided to file a disturbance report, and began questioning the woman, pressing her about what happened. After the woman couldn’t provide details about what dishes she’d ordered and when, Cottle asked for identification. The ID provided was from out of state.

“Are you living in Philadelphia now?” Cottle wanted to know. “Yes,” came the quick answer. When asked for a specific address, the woman’s eyes darted around nervously before she said she had to look it up on her phone.

By the time she finally gave an answer, a full three or so minutes later, Cottle had become suspicious.

Since there was no crime committed on site, after providing her information, the woman was not detained. But before she left, she threw a mini tantrum — which ended up raising police suspicions even more.

“These people are stalking me,” the woman alleged, pointing at Aranita and this reporter. “They’re obviously following me around the city and that’s scary. I’m going to file a complaint against them,” she said as she huffed out the door.

After she was gone, Cottle gave some advice. What restaurant owners could do, the officer said, is post the woman’s photo inside their shops. And what they absolutely should do, she stressed, is file an official police report if this woman tries to pull the scam on them.

Friday’s incident has been referred to Central Detectives.

“You guys need to be filing official reports,” she told the business owners. “That’s the only way we’ll be able to help.”

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