Identity thieves hit N. California grocery chain

MODESTO, Calif. (AP) ? Scores of employees and customers of a supermarket chain have had their account information compromised after thieves tampered with debit and credit card readers in self-checkout lines in Northern California.

Lucky Supermarkets, which disclosed the breach on Monday, said 80 people were affected at 23 of its San Francisco Bay area stores, some of whom had money stolen from their accounts. But there were indications that number could be even higher.

Police in Petaluma said at least 57 people reported money being stolen from their bank accounts after using a self-checkout line.

The average loss appeared to be about $500, and the money was withdrawn throughout California, including in the San Francisco, Santa Barbara and Northridge areas, and in Reno, Nev., Sgt. Steve Nelson told the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa ( ) in a story on Monday.

“We’re being really specific to ask where have you been using that card, and Lucky is the common denominator,” Nelson said.

Alicia Rockwell, a spokeswoman for Lucky Supermarkets, said she did not know whether the 57 people in the Petaluma area were among the 80 customers and employees who had contacted the chain.

She also did not know how much money was stolen from the group of 80 but said many of the thefts occurred last weekend.

The U.S. Secret Service is investigating the thefts, she said. A call to the agency on Tuesday by The Associated Press was not immediately returned.

Lucky Supermarkets is part of Modesto-based Save Mart Supermarkets, which operates more than 233 stores in Northern California and Northern Nevada.

The company discovered a suspicious card reader in early November at a Lucky store, prompting a sweep of all of Lucky Supermarkets stores, Rockwell said. It issued a customer alert on Nov. 23 that informed shoppers that card readers at 21 of the chain’s stores had been tampered with. But the grocery chain said then it was unaware that any customer accounts were compromised.

On Monday, it reported that crooks had managed to place skimmers into readers at 23 Lucky stores, and that accounts had been breached, Rockwell said. She said one reader at each store was affected.

The company does not know how far back the data theft goes. But it is advising customers who used a self-checkout lane in October or November to close their accounts.