Even among credit card fraudsters, there are underachievers.
But we bet you haven’t heard of the 31-year-old employee who used a credit card reader to swipe the data of customers at HuHot Mongolian Grill in Sheridan, Colorado. He bought gift cards until he was caught by a fellow employee two weeks ago, according to a local ABC affiliate.
While those massive corporate scams grab all the headlines, it seems you’re more likely to get ripped off at dinner. Below is a month-by-month report on just some of the stranger restaurant-related scams we’ve found, followed by some advice on how to avoid them…
Jumbo China Buffet in Hazel, Pennsylvania
In January, police said a man who worked there for just three days managed to steal about $18,000 from customers’ credit cards, according to CitizensVoice.com. He used it to buy cigarettes and gift cards at Walmart and clothes at Macy’s.
Saigon Café in Louisville, Kentucky
In February, police said a 22-year-old who worked stole card numbers and names, according to local station WLKY. He was caught trying to stay at a Marriott downtown — where a stolen card got declined twice.
Dave & Buster’s on Long Island
In March, a 19-year-old waitress was arrested for credit card skimming with three others and going on “shopping sprees,” a local NBC affiliate said.
Moca Asian Bistro in Chantilly, Virginia
In April, a 22-year-old waiter was caught after skimming credit card information from more than 1,000 customers in less than a month, according to a local FOX affiliate. A customer ultimately “caught him doing something suspicious with his credit card” and reported it to the manager.
Papa John’s in Houston
This one’s not weird because of the place, but because of what the thief did. Most thieves try to hide any personal connection to stolen cards, but in June, a former Papa John’s employee was caught using customers’ credit cards to pay her own bills — insurance and electric — and stay at hotels, according to a Houston ABC affiliate.
Flamez Burgers & More in Albuquerque, New Mexico
In July, a waiter worked with a group of four other people to steal more than $15,000 from customers, which they converted to gift cards and money orders, according to a local TV station. The four others didn’t work at the restaurant — two worked at Albertson’s, where they converted the stolen cards into gift cards.
Memphis BBQ in Dunwoody, Georgia
In September, police arrested a 26-year-old waitress who used a mobile card reader and her iPhone to make charges to companies with names like “Progressive Little Angels,” according to a local TV station. She simultaneously worked and ripped off customers at Olive Garden.
Oishi Sushi in Olean, New York
Earlier this month, police began investigating dozens of credit card fraud complaints from people who had all visited this sushi joint, according to the Olean Times Herald. Restaurant owner Henry Dong suspects hackers rather than a rogue employee, since cards are always swiped in front of customers as a protective measure.
How to protect yourself
Credit and debit card fraud is a problem for everyone — including President Obama, who recently had a card declined at a restaurant for suspected fraud. You can’t prevent the big data breaches, but here are simple ways to minimize your risk of identity theft at restaurants and other places…
- Pay with cash. Thieves can’t steal what you don’t use.
- Upgrade to a microchip card. Older credit cards use magnetic strips, which are easily duplicated by thieves. Many banks have begun offering more secure cards and you can upgrade for free.
- Check your transactions. Credit card users are not liable for transactions from identity theft — unless the physical card is stolen and not reported — but you still have to catch them.
- Don’t use debit cards. Credit cards have more protections. Debit card users are partially liable for fraudulent charges if they don’t report them within a couple business days, and fully liable if they don’t report them within 60 days of getting the bank statement that lists them.