Watch a report by ITV News Anglia's Russell Hookey
Police are hunting for a couple who've conned their way out of paying for huge food and drink bills they racked up at pubs and hotels across Suffolk and Norfolk.
The pair have used the same ruse at a number of places when their credit card was declined. after a meal. They promised to come back to pay the hefty bill, but left fake contact details and they never returned.
For pubs and restaurants already struggling because of the pandemic, this scam added insult to injury.
The Swan Inn at Monks Eleigh near Stowmarket was one of the pubs targeted. Initially the owners thought it was an isolated incident but after going onto Facebook they found many other businesses had also been hit by the same scam.
Landlady Julie Penney said: "It's bad at any time but specially as that night we'd had seven people in eating so that was 30 something percent of our takings that night that they consumed, we got a waitress in and that's her wages essentially."
We're not a big company, we can't absorb that cost as easily as a big chain could where they could write it off. For us that was a big chunk of our takings that night.
The couple said police thought it was a civil offence but now more reports are emerging officers believe the same couple have been dining for free in all the cases. Suffolk Police said: "This type of behaviour of making off without paying for meals is simply unacceptable. This type of activity whatever the value can result in a criminal conviction which can have a serious impact on someone's life"
A few miles away in Lavenham, the Angel Hotel was also targeted. The couple came to stay running up a bill of £1,100 but told the owner they wouldn't be able to pay it for a couple of days because their wages were late arriving.
The proprietor became suspicious and clamped their car but then an ambulance was called when the man said he thought he was having a heart attack. The car remained immobilised though and eventually the woman reappeared to reclaim it and settle the bill a few days later - her partner seemingly now recovered. Countless pub owners and staff across the East have now taken to social media to demand action and share CCTV of the customers they claim have taken advantage of them. They are encouraging more pubs and restaurants to come forward if they think they too have been affected.