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How scammers pretending to be St. Louis police stole from Clementine’s Creamery

Deanna Czarnowski, 27, of Wentzville, reacts as Tyron Betts, 27, of Webster Groves, eats a scoop of ice cream alongside his 18-week old miniature Australian Shepherd, Blaze, on Tuesday, June 14, 2022, outside Clementine’s Naughty and Nice Creamery in Lafayette Square.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Deanna Czarnowski reacts as Tyron Betts enjoys ice cream alongside his 18-week-old miniature Australian shepherd, Blaze, outside Clementine’s Naughty and Nice Creamery in Lafayette Square earlier this week. The business recently fell victim to a scam artist.

Last week, Clementine’s Creamery fell prey to scam artists with an unusual strategy: They pretended to be the St. Louis police, investigating the business for allegedly passing counterfeit bills. They ultimately stole around $1,300 from the business.

Clementine’s owner Tamara Keefe said that the scammers called the store using a phone that registered on caller ID as the St. Louis Police. They told her employee they were investigating the business for allegedly passing counterfeit bills — and suggested anyone could be a suspect. It would be important, they said, for the employee to act without talking to his co-workers.

Clementine's Creamery owner Tamara Keefe is just glad her employees are safe after scam artists targeted one of her shops last week.
Avery Rogers
St. Louis Public Radio
Clementine's Creamery owner Tamara Keefe is just glad her employees are safe after scam artists targeted one of her shops last week.

“They sounded professional; they were confident,” she explained on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air. “They knew who the manager was; they knew the manager was not on duty. And so they're asking for the supervisor. I mean, they had so many details about our business, and me as an owner, that my employee really didn't have any reason to not think it was them.”

Saying they needed to inspect the bills, the scam artists told the employee to gather up all the cash on hand, including the cash in the safe. Once they did so, they were instructed to go to Walgreens and meet them in the parking lot.

Once on site, though, the employee was told the plan had changed. They needed to convert the cash to gift cards — and then read gift card numbers back to the supposed “officer” on the phone.

Keefe acknowledged that a more seasoned employee might have balked there. But she tried to put herself in her employee’s shoes. “You're a young person, you're nervous. It's the police,” she said. “You know, you're thinking that you've been passing counterfeit [bills] —- that’s a lot for a young person.”

But once the gift card numbers were passed along by the phone, the money was gone, from Clementine’s safe into the hands of thieves. Keefe noted that Walgreens apparently didn’t question the transaction, either.

The St. Louis Metropolitan Police took a report on the incident. But Keefe has no hope of getting the money back. She’s speaking out in hopes of raising awareness about the scam — and to urge caution for businesses that deal in cash.

Had the employee balked at his instructions in the Walgreens’ parking lot, who knows what could have happened?

“It could have been a robbery, or it could have been worse,” she said. “People have done far worse for far less amounts of money.”

Listen: Scammers pretended to be St. Louis police

St. Louis Police Sgt. Charles Wall said in a statement, “This type of fraud is not new; however, I am not aware of any other instances where someone has represented themselves to be affiliated with a police department. No representative of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department will ever contact anyone by telephone and ask or instruct them to purchase gift cards. Individuals and businesses should be highly suspicious of anyone who asks them to do so, regardless of who they represent themselves to be.”

Keefe is skeptical that the department is truly unaware of other incidents in which scammers pose as police. She actually stopped an eerily similar scam while it was in progress at her Clayton location last year. Again, the scammers demanded a manager bring them all the money from the safe to inspect for counterfeit bills. Only quick intervention from a second employee stopped a worker from complying.

At that point, Keefe had warned employees across the company about the scam. “We did a training with all of our staff and employees then, but that was about a year ago,” she explained. “And so we thought that this probably couldn't happen again. But lo and behold, it did.”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Emily Woodbury, Kayla Drake, Danny Wicentowski and Alex Heuer. Avery Rogers is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske served as host of St. Louis on the Air from July 2019 until June 2022. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.