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When Going Out to Eat Gets You Hacked

Christine DiGangi

Going out to eat can have a significant impact on your finances, not only because it can suck the life out of your budget, but also because restaurants are popular data-breach targets.

Patrons may have their payment information compromised in a couple of ways: There’s the smash-and-grab style of hackers, who infiltrate point-of-sale systems and install malware that copies credit and debit card data when the restaurant processes it. Those types of breaches tend to affect a lot of people, sometimes people from all over the map, and because the reward is so great (thousands or millions of credit and debit cards), hackers will continue to pursue restaurant chains and retailers.

Then there are the stealthier moves of the rogue employee. Think about it: When you pick up the tab at a restaurant, your server usually takes your card away from your table and out of sight in order to process your payment. He or she could easily copy the information on your card – the number, security code and expiration date are often all you need to make a transaction. This isn’t to say restaurant staffers are untrustworthy, but it’s been known to happen.

The large-scale data breach has become increasingly common, or at least, such breaches are more commonly made public these days. Here are a few examples of times your taste for a dinner out may have compromised your finances.

Mizado Cocina, New Orleans

About 8,000 customer cards were charged during a breach that occurred at this New Orleans restaurant between May 9 and July 18, the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. The restaurant said its payment system has been secure since July 18, but customers’ names were compromised, along with credit and debit card numbers, expiration dates and CVV security codes.

Jimmy John’s

The national sandwich chain that touts its “freaky fast” delivery and “free smells” at its stores began investigating a possible data breach at the end of July. Security blogger Brian Krebs reported several financial institutions had identified fraudulent card activity on cards recently used at Jimmy John’s sandwich shops, and point-of-sale systems seem to have been the source of the breach.

Briar Restaurant Group, Boston

Briar Restaurant Group runs eight Boston-based establishments, the payment systems of which were infiltrated at the end of 2013. Customers who used credit cards at any of the restaurants between October 2013 and November 2013 may have had their credit or debit card data compromised, according to a news release posted to the company’s website in late December.

Legal Sea Foods, Boston

The popular seafood chain in Boston experienced a data breach this summer, affecting its online ordering and payments system. Thousands of customers’ credit card numbers, expirations dates and security codes (as well as cardholders’ names) were exposed in association with online orders from Jan. 1 through May 21, ID Radar reported. Potentially 4,000 cards are at risk for fraud, a Legal Sea Foods spokeswoman told the outlet.

‘Wichcraft, New York & San Francisco

This small chain of sandwich shops owned by celebrity chef Tom Colicchio experienced a data breach at its New York and San Francisco locations in 2013, the New York Post reported. Customers who bought their meals with credit or debit cards between Aug. 11 and Oct. 2, 2013, may have had their names, card numbers, card expiration dates and card security codes exposed to hackers who infiltrated the payments system.

Hale & Hearty, New York

An employee at one of New York’s Hale & Hearty soup, salad and sandwich shops was accused of skimming customers’ credit cards, after which she and several others went on shopping sprees with the stolen card data, NBC reported. The scheme seemed to date back to the summer of 2013: the employee allegedly skimmed the cards and shared the data with her boyfriend, who then gave it to others to make fake credit cards. Eleven people were accused in the scheme that added up to more than $200,000 in fraudulent purchases. The employee was able to skim more than 20 cards a day with a device her boyfriend gave her, prosecutors said.

P.F. Chang’s China Bistro

P.F. Chang’s started investigating a breach of its payments system earlier this summer, after several banks noticed a trend in fraudulent transactions on cards used at the restaurants. Credit and debit cards used at 33 U.S. locations (there are about 200 P.F. Chang’s worldwide) may have been compromised between March and June. An update posted to the company’s website Aug. 4 says the system was secured as of June 11, though customers who dined at the affected restaurants may have had their card numbers exposed. In some cases, compromised data may have included customers’ names and their cards’ expiration dates.

How to Protect Yourself

Eating at home may seem like a simple solution to avoiding restaurant breaches, but really, any payment processor is at risk: Earlier this week, the Albertson’s supermarket chain announced a massive data breach, so you’re not necessarily safe by avoiding restaurants and making your own food.

Other than using cash, which can be inconvenient and offers none of the protections credit cards do, the best thing you can do is closely monitor your financial account activity. If you’re checking your transactions on a daily basis, you’re likely to spot an unauthorized transaction, no matter how large or small it is, and cut off the thief before too much damage is done. Otherwise, if someone gets a hold of your data and goes on an unchecked spending spree, your credit score could suffer as a result of skyrocketing credit card balances. You likely won’t be held liable for such purchases, but it may take a while to reverse the damage. You can check two of your credit scores for free on Credit.com, and as far as monitoring your bank accounts, your bank probably offers free transactional monitoring, and mobile banking applications make it easy to check your balances on the go.

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