Lucky stores warn of possible dangers in wake of credit-card scam

KTVU
The San Francisco Local

KTVU
KTVU

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Lucky Supermarkets on Monday took the unusual step of telling customers that they may need to cancel credit cards or change their bank accounts in the wake of a card-skimming scam that federal authorities called one of the most sophisticated they've ever seen.

The Save Mart Supermarket chain that operates Lucky and Save Mart Stores first learned the credit and debit card readers at self-checkout lanes in several Bay Area stores have been tampered with back on November 11.

Watch a video report of Santa Clara tampering.

The company sent out a consumer advisory on November 23.

Steps were immediately taken to remove the tampered card readers in the affected stores, the company said in its original November 23 news release.

The company has since learned that three more stores in Novato, Sunnyvale and Petaluma were targeted, said Alicia Rockwell, public affairs director for Save Mart.

The three additional stores were missed in the original report sent to the company's Asset Protection Team, she said.

"These were not newly tampered card readers but part of the original discovery," she said.

At each store, only one card reader in a self-checkout lane was targeted, Rockwell said.

Signs have been posted at all Lucky stores affected warning customers to check their statements and close their accounts immediately if something is wrong.

They told me that somebody had put a magnetic device of some sort on the machine and it had taken people's information, said Santa Clara resident Dan Reilly.

It happened at Lucky stores from Pinole to San Jose.  Save Mart said the tampering was discovered during routine maintenance of card reader machines.

KTVU talked to the company's chief financial officer Stephen Ackerman on the phone Monday night.  He told me they found circuit board sniffer devices inside the card readers.

"The Secret Service tells me that it is the most sophisticated device they've ever seen in the United States," said Ackerman. "They planted a second head in our units and the computer boards picked up the credit card numbers."

The company said that so far 80 people have reported money taken or suspicious activity of their accounts. The amount of funds affected is in the thousands of dollars

Management told KTVU it has checked all of it's stores and wants to assure customers it is now safe.

"We've removed the units from our stores," explained Ackerman. "This could not happen again."

But federal investigators are apparently worried that this could happen again.

One clue they have is that someone stole credit card readers from a Lucky store in Fresno a few months ago.

The company has had the full support of local, state and federal authorities, financial institutions and card processors, Ackerman said.

"At this time, we strongly recommend that anyone who used our self-check terminals in the affected stores during the months of October and November consider closing their bank account and opening a new one," Ackerman said.

Authorities say the thefts are most likely to occur over the weekend when most financial institutions are closed or have limited hours.

Customers with compromised account statements should contact the Lucky Customer Support Center at (800) 692-5710.

Save Mart operates 233 stores in Northern California and Northern Nevada under the Save Mart, S-Mart Foods, Lucky and FoodMaxx banners.

Stores affected:

NEW Lucky - Novato

NEW Lucky - Sunnyvale

NEW Lucky - Petaluma

Lucky - Pinole

Lucky - Milpitas

Lucky - Mountain View

Lucky - Redwood City

Lucky - El Cerrito

Lucky - Daly City

Lucky - Foster City

Lucky - San Carlos

Lucky - Millbrae

Lucky - Alameda

Lucky - Santa Clara on 234 Saratoga Ave.

Lucky - San Francisco on 1515 Sloat Blvd.

Lucky - Hayward on 25151 Santa Clara St.

Lucky - Fremont on 5000 Mowry Ave. and 35820 Fremont Blvd.

Lucky - San Jose on 5510 Monterey Highway, 200 El Paseo De Saratoga, 844 Blossom Hill Rd. and 3270 South White Road

Save Mart - Watsonville

Photo caption: File: A customer puts his items in his car after shopping at a Lucky store. (Paul Sakuma/AP)