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October 31, 2011

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Stolen restaurant reservations book returned by expat thieves

EXPATRIATE thieves have returned a reservations book, filled with the details of hundreds of customers, stolen from a downtown Italian restaurant, a manager said yesterday.

Surveillance camera footage posted online earlier this month showed three white men in their 20s wearing suits and ties take the book from the Da Marco Italian restaurant in Changning District.

The book was given back on October 20, three days after it was stolen, said a manager at Da Marco known as Pola.

But while the book was returned, many of the 300 or so customers whose names and telephone numbers it contains - including many expats - are concerned the gang may have copied their details.

There is speculation the men worked for a cold-calling company, and it was reported that reservations books were stolen from other restaurants around the same time.

A lucrative trade exists in personal details in China, with some companies prepared to pay 10 yuan (US$1.56) for each name and number.

Pola said when she was first called by the culprits, the person claimed they worked for a consultancy company.

But the following day he called again, this time insisting they were students who simply took the book as a drunken prank.

Whatever their motivation, while the foreigners confessed to the theft, they will not face punishment under Chinese law.

Pola said she was told by police that they cannot establish a case as the book is not valuable.

Surveillance video shows the three foreigners ask a member of staff at the front desk to get the manager. While she is away, one grabs the book and they leave.

The video was uploaded to video websites, such as, with Da Marco promising a free dinner worth 1,000 yuan (US$157) to anyone who could identify the culprits.

Another member of staff at Da Marco, who asked not to be identified, has no doubt about why the book was stolen.

"The men are definitely working for a company," said the member of staff. "An Englishman claiming to be their boss called me earlier, apologizing and assuring me they would be fired."

Pola said when the thieves changed their story she decided just to get the book back and let the matter rest.

Local lawyer Wu Dong told Shanghai Daily that the police didn't investigate because under Chinese law a case of stealing can be established only when the value of goods stolen reaches a certain value or they constitute a business secret.

The theft was not investigated as the book was not intrinsically valuable and was left in a public place - indicating that it was not a business secret.

This leaves customers whose details are in the book in an situation where they cannot protect their privacy right due to a lack of evidence.

Wu said victims harassed by cold-callers may sue the restaurant in court, as Chinese law prohibits people from acquiring personal information to have it exposed or trade in it for profits.

Under this, the restaurant should bear responsibility for letting the contacts be leaked.

However, it is difficult to prove a link between cold-calling harassment and the information leak from the restaurant, according to Wu.


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