Hanover Police are investigating the third case in five years of mass credit card fraud at Panda House restaurant in Hanover. More than 20 customers, including several Dartmouth students, were victims of a “skimming” scheme that claimed more than $10,000, Hanover Police said.
Skimming is a fairly new criminal method in which the skimmer, often a restaurant employee, runs customer credit cards through a handheld device that electronically captures data stored on the magnetic strip of the card. This data can be sold on the black market or spread through criminal organizations and used to make unauthorized purchases.
According to Hanover Police Chief Nicholas Giaccone, it may again be hard to apprehend the criminal because Panda House management has failed to maintain required employee records.
Police faced the same problem in two earlier investigations of credit card fraud at Panda House.
“It will be hard to catch up with this guy because the Panda House has no records again, and they are continuing very poor management procedures. This doesn’t happen at other restaurants in town,” Giaccone said.
Despite the pattern of credit card crimes at their restaurant, Panda House denied responsibility for wayward employees.
“Maybe some people are bad guys, but we can’t control it. The world is big, and this [stuff] happens everywhere,” said Frank, a Panda House employee who declined to reveal his last name.
Panda House manager Vincent Wu was unavailable for comment, and employees did not know when he would again be in the store for the next several weeks.
Linzi Sheldon ’07, one victim of the Panda House skimming scheme, realized Sunday that someone had stolen money from her debit account when her card was declined at Molly’s restaurant. Surprised, Sheldon checked her bank account online to find that someone had spent more than $700 of her money at two stores in Nevada.
Following advice from her bank, Sheldon rushed to the Hanover Police Department to file a credit card fraud report. The officer on duty immediately asked Sheldon if she had recently eaten at Panda House.
Sheldon is a member of The Dartmouth staff.
Hanover Police plan to contact the U.S. Secret Service, the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office and the Internal Revenue Service for assistance in their investigation. These agencies have yet to determine if Panda House will face consequences for continuing to neglect or bungle their Employment Eligibility Verification forms and W-4 tax forms.
Meanwhile, police released a warning advising customers at Panda House to either “pay with cash or only present their credit card at the cash register before leaving.”
Hanover Police handled a similar case in May 2000, when more than 70 victims lost more than $165,000 from skimming at Panda House. With the assistance of the Secret Service, police determined that a former employee had committed the crimes.
But because Panda House did not maintain employee records, they were unable to identify or apprehend the criminal.
In November 2002 another employee skimmed thousands of dollars from more than 50 victims. Once again, no one was apprehended because Panda House management failed to maintain valid employee records.