A couple who have built up the Barletta restaurant brand in Margate since 2019 say they are facing insolvency after scammers stole £50,000 from their business accounts.
Jackson Berg and Natalia Ribbe say cashflow has been ‘crippled’ and they face the struggle of paying rent and suppliers and keeping their team of 17 staff employed after the sophisticated phone scammers wiped out accounts with two online banks.
Barletta operates from Turner Contemporary after opening at the site last year following residencies at Dreamland, Urchin Wines, the former Ziggy’s rooftop bar and the Rose in June.
The pair have also just opened Sète wine bar and restaurant in Northdown Road.
The scam began last month when small amounts were fraudulently taken from one of the accounts.
Natalia said: “I then received a phone call from the bank and everything matched up so it seemed like it was the bank but it wasn’t. We were victims of a scam by professional criminals who emptied both business accounts of £50,000.
“The banks say they are in the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) but there is a loophole and they do not have the clause that would have protected us.
“At first we kept it to ourselves because we were hoping to get it back but it seems we are just not important to them. They say they are good for small businesses but when it comes down to a business being completely destroyed they are nowhere to be found. Now they say we can’t get it back.
“It has crippled our cash flow and we can’t see a way out. Sète is not as impacted by it as that has its own account but we are literally staring down the barrel of insolvency and can’t plan for the next three or six months.
“We created a home in Margate and have a new business getting off the ground. We have worked so hard.
“It’s absolutely devastating to think it could all be washed away because of some criminals and two very lousy banks who don’t seem to understand what protecting a small business means.”
But Natalia says she and Jackson have also been overwhelmed by the kindness and support from friends and the community.
One of those friends, Lauren Barnett, has set up a GoFundMe page in a bid to help the pair save Barletta.
On the page Lauren says: “They have created wonderful places for people to eat & drink and a caring, nurturing home for their teams to grow. The deadline to save the business is nigh.”
Natalia said: “We feel overwhelmed by the kindness and all the messages of support. We know £50,000 is a lot of money but if people chip in £5 each we can keep going and it would help keep our 17 staff employed.”
The Isle of Thanet News contacted online bank Tide which says it has done all it can and managed to retrieve a portion of the money – understood to be around £2000.
A spokesperson for Tide said: “We are very sorry for the loss the owners of Barletta have suffered. We appreciate this type of scam is incredibly hard on small businesses. We continuously encourage all of our members to be vigilant and visit our website where we offer advice on fraud prevention.
“In this case, once we were informed of the fraud, we contacted the bank where the money had been transferred on the same day and were able to recover some of the money that remained in the account. Unfortunately, the rest of the money had been moved on.
“We have investigated the matter thoroughly and believe we did all we could to recover as much of the money as we could as quickly as possible.”
An update on the fundraising page added by the organiser says: “Every donor will receive a refund if the money is retrieved from the bank- Although Natalia has recently received written clarification from Tide that they will not be returning the money.
“Natalia and Jackson have files with both Action Farid & the Financial Ombudsman.”
Protect yourself against scammers
For advice about protecting yourself from scammers visit: www.kent.police.uk/advice/advice-and-information/fa/fraud/online-fraud/