How Waiters Steal Your Credit Card

This clip from the UK’s “The Real Hustle” shows how easy it is for a waiter to attach a skimming device to their clothes and steal your credit card at a restaurant. After harvesting the numbers, the crooks can make a physical duplicate of your card, or sell the numbers online to other criminals.

Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do except watch your credit card statement and report any suspicious transactions as soon as possible. — BEN POPKEN


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  1. thewaz says:

    i think this hapenned to me. but i’ll never really know. i noticed someone attending single parent meetings on my credit card, so i had it cancelled and got refunded. i eat out alot and almost never carry cash.

  2. davere says:

    One time on my card I saw two small charges at some Hebrew school up in New York (together with my own charges, the same day, here in Florida.)

    I called, I explained that I can’t be in two places at once and that I do not deal with Hebrew schools anywhere. They told me that according to their records my card was physically swiped in New York and it was not an Internet transaction.

    They reversed the charges pending an investigation (which of course I “won”), they closed that account and gave me a new one.

    Not sure how that ever happened but it hasn’t happened since. It was all rather quick and painless but this just reinforces the fact that you must look at all your credit and debit transactions carefully every month and inquire about any charges that don’t look familiar, no matter how small (that’s how it starts.)

  3. medalian1 says:

    Just review your statements and dispute anything you don’t recognize. It’s easy.

  4. Caswell says:

    Interesting that the report comes from the UK.

    We spent a week there last year and were puzzled the first time a waiter brought the card reader to the table and handling the transaction there. After a few times we finally asked about the practice, and they told us that UK patrons don’t want their cards out of sight.

    I guess this explains why.

  5. thrillhouse says:

    Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do except watch your credit card statement and report any suspicious transactions as soon as possible.

    you could pay in cash. just a thought.

  6. conedude13 says:

    It’s a lot easier to do in the US. I was once a waiter for about 2 years and saw a lot of shady stuff go down.

    Word of warning to you all, keep that slip the server gives you. Often, if you leave the restaurant’s copy as well as your copy, the server can just give him/herself a bit of a bigger tip without you being the wiser. Try disputing an entire order once you check out your statement without a receipt.

    Also, the server usually gets the credit card here. Leaving him/her all alone with the card without needing to do any swiping out in the open.

  7. winnabago says:

    Legal Seafoods in Boston is trying a new method of bringing a little computer over to the table and swiping the card there. They started doing it at the test kitchen location last year, and will be rolling it out across the chain soon, they said. It certainly seems safer, although sometimes I wonder how secure their wireless is.

  8. whans2007 says:

    Having been a server (part-time for the past 9 years) for the past 17 years, I would submit the following:

    It would be very, very easy to do. It’s not really something I’ve thought of doing or would actually do, though.

    Another topic regarding people who pay their server with a credit card, which is something I HAVE thought of doing, though never followed through, is: if you’re a jerk or a bitch to your server, you may not want to pay with your credit card, since they will then have your name (and card number) and if they have skills using the internet to find people, it wouldn’t be too difficult to get your address, find out what kind of car you drive, see if you have a record, etc, post the information to a blog and drag your name through the mud. Not that I would ever do that, mind you…I did wait on Dick Durbin (one of my senators), who treated me like a servant and left 10%…He only lost my vote.

    Cash is a good thing.

  9. suggestible says:

    Both restaurants where I’ve waited tables we take the card over to a computer and swipe it for the customer. It’s possible that any of us could write down the card number and three-digit code on the back and use it online. If I trusted no one, I would use cash when dining out.

    As far as tips, conedude, any restaurant worth dining in will have a manager check the tips, and if you notice and report a discrepancy to the manager later that server will be fired and you’ll get your money back.

  10. suggestible says:
  11. NoThru22 says:

    That entire video is pretty much irrelevent here in America because in the majority of places the server takes your card out of sight.

    I’ve had two experiences. The first was at Friday’s. They used to put all your pertinent credit card details right on the receipt because they couldn’t add a tip otherwise if they didn’t store the card number on the computer. I had my check card number stolen this way six years ago and had my entire checking account cleared out just before my Christmas shopping. Glad they don’t do that anymore.

    The second was recently. I got my dinner around 6 pm and tipped the waitress in cash, which is what I usually do. At about 8 o’clock she logged back into the computer and gave herself an extra $3. $3 doesn’t sound like a lot, but how many people do you think she’s done that to and they never checked? The manager didn’t seem concerned at all though, even when I made the point that she had no need to even log back on and charge my card because I tipped cash.

  12. zolielo says:

    I suggest intentionally getting one card with a limit as low as possible; give the thief have less of a margin…

  13. othium says:

    A friend and I eat at a buffet-style restaurant once in a while and it is self-serve there. For some reason they have started adding a “Tip” line on the bottom of the credit card slip. I didn’t think much of it and just put a line through it as I don’t feel tipping is required when I am doing all the work (Getting my own food and drink, etc.) Well a couple weeks ago I noticed that a tip had been added to my charge. I called the bank and disputed it which was no problem. From now on when I eat at that place I will use cash or write “NO TIP” in large capital letters across the space on the slip instead.

  14. alterboy says:

    I’ve been hit twice within a year. The last time was a week ago for $300. They also tried to charge $400 but the bank stopped that one. I’m going back to cash for the most part unless it’s a large corporation. Cash only for food and gas though. It’s a hassle but, I see no other choice. Just have to give myself an extra 10 minutes to stop by the bank.

  15. Kromem says:

    happens all the time at Hooters.

  16. AcidReign says:

    …..There’s also the method of walking up front to pay your check, and keep that card in sight the whole time. Granted, the cashier/hostess might have a photographic memory, and just take your account info mentally, but it’s not likely! You’ll get some funny looks in the nicer restaurants, but it’s worth the peace of mind! I’ve even done this in places like Commanders Palace (New Orleans) and Spiaggia (Chicago).

  17. finnadat says:

    got skimmed or double swiped @ Les Halles in Coral Gables, FL. Between me and my brother we got lit up for about $10k – we weren’t responsible for any of it, but it was a pain and no prosecutions have come about from it so it makes me think that this isn’t important to law enforcement or credit card companies.

    If they cared they could prevent it would be to have waiters use the portable card readers like those used in Europe (they are much better about this than the US) and smart card chips that would “authenticate” the card. Both aren’t foolproof but would probably decrease the amount of fraudulent use.

    if anybody cared..

  18. thegreatgatsby says:


    Who do you think replenishes the food, clears your table, and (at most places) brings your drinks?

    Most people don’t tip generously at buffets, because the servers generally do have an easier time of it, but 10% of the check or at least a buck a person is a pitifully small amount to make a good impression at an establishment which you indicated that you frequent. Just because the restaraunt is buffet-style doesn’t mean the servers aren’t making $3 an hour.

  19. JohnMc says:

    I always wonder how good the security is at restaurants. Were I a determined card theif I would hack the restaurants server and download it every night. That way I get 100s of cards rather than 10 or so during a shift as a waiter.

  20. tcabeen says:

    It’s no more difficult, and hardly different than counting your change when you pay with cash.

    In fact, it’s easier for a clerk/waiter/cashier/whatever to short you a few cents or a dollar here and there without you knowing. And for particularly spacey people, it’s easy to lose a ten-spot from time to time.

    What’s the solution? Highly encrypted RFID chips? Thumbprint sensors? Retinal scans? Barcodes tattoo’d on the neck? No.

    It’s the same answer it’s always been:
    Pay attention.

  21. poornotignorant says:

    It’s about time restaurants paid all their employees a living wage and allow consumers to tip for an exceptional job.

  22. codexile says:

    One of my cards was cloned and I got lucky. I noticed an ATM charge on my card from Eastern Romania! I’ve never left the US so it was an obvious case of stolen identity. Still, it took me 6 months to resolve the matter with Chase and get the charges dropped.

  23. some_yahoo says:

    @poornotignorant: yeah but that “living wage” would mean that the base price of your regular meal would be increased by 20%.

    Money doesn’t come from thin air.