Spokane area grocery stores, including all 12 Yoke’s Fresh Markets and 21 Rosauers stores, are telling customers that debit and credit card payments won’t be processed normally while investigators try to secure a computer network that was hacked over the past two months.
Yoke’s and Rosauers are two of several grocers whose financial transactions have been vulnerable to a data breach reported in recent weeks by customers of area banks and credit unions.
Customers entering stores on Monday are told they can choose to use a secure but much slower dial-up connection to make card payments.
Those stores are also telling customers they can pay in cash or with checks.
“This is a ridiculously horrible time for this to happen,” said Yoke’s CEO John Bole on Monday morning. As families stock up on groceries and beverages for Thanksgiving, the timing almost couldn’t be worse for area grocers, he said.
Normally, this is one of the busier shopping weeks of the year for grocery stores.
All ATM machines located at area grocery stores are also not part of the URM computer network.
Bole said Yoke’s managers are following the recommendations of URM Stores, the Spokane-based wholesaler that processes a large share of the electronic payments made by shoppers at Yoke’s, Rosauers, Super 1 Foods, Family Foods, CenterPlace Market, and Trading Co. Stores.
Jeff Philipps, CEO of Rosauers, said the 21 stores in his group will offer 10 percent discounts on all purchases made on Monday. “We feel it’s fair because we didn’t tell people ahead of time they’d have to go through this,” he said.
That discount will be offered at the chain’s Super 1 Stores and at the South Hill Huckleberry’s Market, as well.
URM Stores has said it will continue to search for the source of the data breach that triggered a Sunday meeting with managers of the stores it serves.
It’s uncertain if the data breach occurred at the local store level or at some other point in the network, said URM Stores CEO Ray Sprinkle.
A large number of area consumers who’ve identified unauthorized purchases on their cards have been customers who made card purchases at the stores served by URM.
But it’s not the case that customers at every one of the member stores have seen their cards compromised, Sprinkle said. He said he couldn’t disclose which stores are not tied to the fraud outbreak.
URM collects the electronic purchases at the member food stores, then transmits the data to First Data Corp., a major processor of payments based in Atlanta.
First Data has said it also is investigating the rash of card fraud occurring in Eastern Washington, western Montana and parts of Oregon.
He said forensic experts also haven’t pinned down when the hack took place, or the method used.
“I’m not going to speculate on those questions,” Sprinkle said. “What we see is that our investigators have found signs of an attack.”
On its website Monday, URM said some of its member stores could switch to a secure dial-up payment system, delivering electronic data without using the current network. But Sprinkle said that system is not available in all stores.
The dial-up option for payment will take much slower than normal processing, said Bole.
The URM statement noted: “This process takes a few more minutes at the check-out stand and we ask for your patience.”
To help move customers through longer lines, Yoke’s store managers are waiving ATM fees to help customers get cash for payments, said Jeff Weisgerber, manager of the Foothills Drive location.
Some credit card users say large, unauthorized payments in Florida and California have been charged to their cards. Others, including Spokane resident Donald Frogner, have found payments occurring overseas.
“We saw a payment for $18 for a Kentucky Fried Chicken in New Delhi, India,” Frogner said.
A former Air Force communications engineer, Frogner said, “This isn’t a bunch of teenagers hacking in and getting cards. This is a sophisticated effort,” in that some of the fraud involves using physical cards at some locations, instead of online fraud.
He and his wife also saw more than $1,200 in unauthorized charges based in Florida.
A number of area banks and credit unions have notified members that they’re being sent new replacement cards to insure against possible fraudulent use.
Spokane Media Federal Credit Union CEO Debie Keesee said her institution is proactively replacing about 350 credit or debit cards, in order to protect those members from possible fraud.