Despite the prevalence of a web hacker's attack on EJ Phair customers paying with credit or debit cards, the identity thief has not been found. And some of the card numbers may still be being used.
The "technological sophistication" and "complexity of the crime," along with the geographical scope of where thieves tried to spend money with the stolen card numbers, makes it extremely difficult for the Concord Police Department to find the culprits, according to Sgt. Krieger of the Financial Crimes Unit. And since the payment system at EJ Phair was hacked by a worm, which could have come from anywhere in the world, the hacker remains elusive.
The rash of thefts resulted in 35 reports to Concord PD, along with a likely tally of unreported cases.
If your card number was stolen during a visit to EJ Phair in Concord, it probably happened between Sept. 1 and Nov. 26, say Concord police. The card numbers phished by the worm could have been sold to thieves anywhere, which would explain the diversity of payments made across the country and around the world. Card numbers taken during the system breach could also have been stored for use at a later time, resulting in new reports of theft even months after the hacker was shut down.
The tell-tale signs of an EJ Phair-related credit card thief are minimal expenses at different places, possibly in various states or even countries, followed by larger costs. This is how scammers try to slip through your bank's alert system: by first making a few small payments, so as not to arouse suspicion, before piling on the big bucks.
Could EJ Phair have prevented this crime? Only by maintaining a state-of-the-art system, said Sgt. Krieger. Businesses with older payment equipment and software are always at risk of providing weak spots for hackers to attack. Owner J.J. Phair says he is spending as much as $10,000 to upgrade the computer system at the pub.
But every advancement in technology creates a new opportunity for exploitation, said Krieger, so prevention is extremely difficult.
"Being as careful as you can and by monitoring your own accounts, you can minimize the risk of theft and loss," said Krieger.
Below are some tips from the Concord Police Department to help keep your cards — and your money — safe.
How to Protect Your Bank Cards from Thieves
Internet Credit Card Fraud
- Ensure a site is secure and reputable before providing your credit card number online.
- Don’t trust a site just because it claims to be secure.
- If purchasing merchandise, ensure it is from a reputable source.
- Promptly reconcile credit card statements to avoid unauthorized charges.
- Do your research to ensure legitimacy of the individual or company.
- Beware of providing credit card information when requested through unsolicited emails.
Internet Identity Theft
- Ensure websites are secure prior to submitting your credit card number.
- Do your homework to ensure the business or website is legitimate.
- Attempt to obtain a physical address, rather than a P.O. box or maildrop.
- Never throw away credit card or bank statements in usable form.
- Be aware of missed bills which could indicate your account has been taken over.
- Be cautious of scams requiring you to provide your personal information.
- Never give your credit card number over the phone unless you make the call.
- Monitor your credit statements monthly for any fraudulent activity.
- Report unauthorized transactions to your bank or Credit Card Company as soon as possible.
- Review a copy of your credit report at least once a year.
Prevention Through Monitoring
- Review monthly statements from your checking/credit and other financial accounts. The earlier you catch an error, the easier it is to resolve it. Most credit and bank companies offer “online” banking which can be a quick and easy way to monitor activity on accounts. Most banks also offer “Instant notification” systems. These are designed to help monitor the use of your accounts so you can quickly recognizing fraudulent activity and notify the bank/credit institution as quickly as possible.
- Balancing your checkbook may seem a monotonous chore, but understanding where your money goes will help you spot any irregular withdrawals or charges.
- Reviewing your credit card bill each month is critical as well, especially if you charge a lot of your daily purchases.
- Order and review your credit reports. The three credit agencies, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, are each required by law to provide you one free credit report a year. Stagger your requests, and you can monitor your credit history every four months. While you are at it, make sure your name, address and other information are correct. If you find old or inaccurate information, have it removed.