Scam targets Milford restaurant

MILFORD – The letters promise a free meal under a program called “Chapangas Feeds Those in Need,” and indicated Chapangas Griddle and Grill, a restaurant on Elm Street, wanted to give back to the community by offering free meals to the less-fortunate.

The problem is Chapangas had nothing to do with the letters, and the owner is trying to figure out how to deal with people who come in and want to redeem them for free meals.

The fake, but official-looking, letters were sent to area social service agencies, including Share Outreach.

The letter to Share was dated Jan. 24 and asks the agency to make copies and give one to each client, entitling them to a free dinner for themselves and for any children under 12 in their party.

About two weeks ago a few people began bringing the letters to the restaurant, and Chapangas gave them free meals, about $300 worth of meals, said owner Ronald Barry.

“It’s a great cause,” Barry said, but “it’s getting pretty costly … We are trying to get it under control.” Barry notified police and posted a notice on the restaurant’s front door letting people know about the fake letter and is trying to learn what other agencies received the letter.

But, he said, no one wants to tell a family that they have to pay for a meal they reasonably expected to be free.

“It’s hard to say no when they’re sitting there with their kids,” he said.

Someone did a good job of writing the letter, he said, and guesses there could be a few hundred letters in circulation.

“We do not want any of your clients to be embarrassed,” it reads. “They simply order normally and give their waitress this letter at the end of their meal. Our wait staff will know what to do. In this way your client doesn’t have to announce what this is and no one sitting nearby will hear anything. No tipping is necessary. We will take care of that as well.”

The letter to Share Outreach is addressed to the executive director or facilities manager.

“Since we opened the doors to our full-service restaurant on October 19, 2010,” it reads, “one of our main goals is to give back to the community. Our newest endeavor, “Chapangas Feeds Those in Need,” would like to give back to our less-fortunate friends at your shelter.”

Share Outreach does not operate a shelter, but provides food, clothing and sometime financial assistance to area needy, but the letter was also sent to two transitional shelters in Nashua.

Share Director Chris Janson was surprised by how believable the letter is as it explained the free-meal program.

“Nothing raised a red flag,” she said, so Share gave out a handful of them to clients.

“I’m still trying to figure out what the motivation could be,” she said in an email. “Who could benefit?”

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.