There was no all-you-can-eat crab event on Treasure Island this weekend as promised, and it had nothing to do with a toxic algae bloom along the California coast.
Before the scare that has delayed crab season, the “organizer” of the Hot Garlic Crab Fest swore up and down that her event was legitimate and had nothing to do with a similar fraudulent event promoted to take place in Modesto in September.
The Modesto Beer and Bites Festival promised craft beer and all-you-can-eat crab and lobster for prices that, it turned out, were too good to be true.
The person or people who promoted the event never acquired the necessary permits for such an extravagant affair, and apparently never intended to.
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My colleague Marijke Rowland and I discovered three other events that appeared to be connected to the Modesto Beer and Bites Festival, the dates for which have all since passed without delivering on the good times.
The Internet Protocol address for the Modesto Beer and Bites Festival was the same one that hosted websites for a White Gala at Great America that never happened, as well as a Naughty Garden Halloween Masquerade Ball planned in Oakland and the Hot Garlic Crab Fest that was supposed to take place in San Francisco on Saturday.
All of the events were promoted on a Facebook page for Gary Jordan, who the event organizer – going by the name London Parks – told us she paid to create the websites and promote the events.
After our story ran on Sept. 26, Gary Jordan’s Facebook page was deleted and the website for the Hot Garlic Crab Fest was given a makeover with new pictures and verbiage. A notice was posted on the homepage saying news reports that the event was a fake were incorrect.
The location of the event was also changed from an intersection in downtown San Francisco to the Treasure Island Officers Club. Our story pointed out that street closure permits had not been pulled and the San Francisco Entertainment Commission had never heard of it.
Despite Park’s best efforts to validate the crab fest, people took to its Facebook page to expose it as fake. The page was taken down and a new one created, which captured people who hadn’t heard it was a scam.
I spoke with two of them, one who spent $175 on five tickets and another who bought a VIP table for $600. Both, fortunately, were able to get their charges reversed.
A representative from the Officers Club said someone did call to inquire about booking an event at the venue, but never followed through with any of the requirements for a contract. Any promotion of the event using the Officers Club name was done without its consent, the representative said.
She did the same thing for the masquerade ball, making a reservation for a “holiday party” at the Chabot Space & Science Center but never paying the deposit.
Parks gave up on that event right after our story ran, shutting down the the website within days.
The hot garlic crab ruse went on for another two weeks, until a Facebook post Oct. 7 said the event was sold out, and the website was taken down shortly after.
These scammers gained people’s trust by using established media for promotions such as Groupon, Eventbrite and, in the case of the Modesto festival, a local radio station and this newspaper.
Was it worth all their effort?
Between the three people I spoke to who bought tickets to the Hot Garlic Crab Fest, two people who bought tickets to the Modesto Beer and Bites Festival and two who reported the fraud to Modesto police, that’s $1,184.
There are likely dozens more who didn’t bother filing police reports because charges were reversed by their credit card companies. Groupon, where more than 100 half-price Beer and Bites tickets were sold, returned money to buyers.
The low risk to the crooks means the scam is perpetuated.
Whether a case is a felony or a misdemeanor makes a big difference in how it is prioritized and investigated. Theft of more than $950 is a felony.
To get a search warrant for the Square or PayPal account that was used to process the fraudulent transactions, the crime must be a felony, said Modesto Police Department spokeswoman Heather Graves.
In Modesto, only two people filed reports and neither had losses close to the $950 threshold.
A spokesperson for the San Francisco Police Department told me it hadn’t received any reports at all, and actually seemed surprised I was asking.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the perpetrators have already started promoting the next scam.
Justice is unlikely in this situation; be vigilant not to become a victim in the first place. Remember the adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”