Credit card thieves target Tega Cay restaurants

joverman@fortmilltimes.comMarch 26, 2013 

— At least 50 people have had their credit card numbers stolen from two Tega Cay businesses in the past month, according to Tega Cay Police.

Customers of Carlos Café and Big Apple Bagel, both in the Stonecrest shopping center near Walmart, have reported that their credit cards have been used to buy things all over the country, including, in one case, a plane ticket to Spain.

Det. Tina Truesdale of the Tega Cay Police Department has been working with the owners of both restaurants to determine the source of the problem, but so far has only been able to determine that the theft is not internal, she said.

“The only thing we can figure out is that they’ve been hacked,” she said.

She believes that a hacker is accessing the credit card information via the restaurants’ cash registers, she added.

Truesdale is working with officials from the U.S. Secret Service to resolve the problem, she said.

“It’ll take awhile. People need to use cash. I hate to say it, but it could happen to any business, not just these two,” she said.

The credit card issue has caused a severe decline in business at Carlos Café, owners Flor and Joe Strollo said.

“We’ve noticed a great loss, and we feel like it’s unfortunate because we didn’t do anything,” Flor Strollo said.

Several years ago, similar crimes occurred at restaurants off Doby’s Bridge Road in Fort Mill. Authorities later determined that thieves intercepted credit and debit card numbers with a wireless device during transactions.

Strollo upgraded the restaurant’s computer system, installed anti-spyware, contacted the merchant that services her credit card machine and did a diagnostic to ensure that credit card numbers being transmitted are encrypted. They’ve also put up a sign in the store explaining the credit card problem to customers.

“I just feel that being honest is better than hiding,” Flor Strollo said.

At Big Apple Bagel, Truesdale said the owner has seen the cash register’s computer system taken over by an unseen operator before. The cursor moved, the programs changed and passwords were entered.

When the owner called the cash register company to ask if they were working on the system, they said that they “had nothing to do with it,” Truesdale said, giving more credence to the theory that it could be a hacker involved in stealing the credit card information.

“It’s not their fault,” Truesdale said. “It’s uncontrollable. However, they need to notify their customers so they are forewarned.”

Flor Strollo said that a month ago when she and her husband first noticed the decline in customers, they blamed it on the weather, and then on basketball season.

“But how much more can you say that, over and over?” she said.

Strollo said she has even seen an email that was forwarded to her that told people not to visit the restaurant anymore.

Boycotting the restaurant isn’t the answer, she said.

“By not frequenting these businesses it will not help the issue. We’re at the point that we think, ‘Should we close? Is this it?’ We’ve put everything in this place, but we don’t know what to do. We wonder if it’s worth it.”

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