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P.F. Chang Kicks It Old School: The Way to Data Security?

July 22, 2014
Credit Card Basics, Credit Cards
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It feels like every other week the media reports a new mega-breach of data at some well-known company — from Target to P.F. Chang’s. Data security geeks are hard at work building their firewalls and doing whatever they can to keep our data safe.

Yet, in an unusual move, P.F. Chang’s decided to go back to the old manual credit card imprinting machines to solve this problem — at least temporarily. Sure enough, I was in that restaurant recently and out came the clunky old imprinter. The kid behind the counter wasn’t entirely sure how to operate it, so I helped him out.

Old school data security solution — ka-chunk

Just in case you don’t know what I’m talking about: A credit card imprinter is a metal device. You place a card on a metal plate, and two pieces of carbon-backed paper on top. You slide a heavy metal plate over everything and – ka-chunk! – the raised numbers and letters of the card create an imprint on the carbon paper. The merchant fills out the amount of the sale, you add tip if appropriate and tally it up, you sign the paper, you keep a copy, and they keep the other.

Yes, these things are nicknamed “knuckle busters.” It all sounds so very Flintstones, but that’s how they used to do it before swipe machines.

These aren’t the safest devices, either in terms of protecting one’s knuckles or for security. Anyone can just grab and copy the carbon paper. Then again, a thief won’t be able to grab millions all at once. In fact, a thief may not even know what the heck he’s looking at, given how ancient the process is.

Manual machines to go — but not yet

Fortunately, the chain is quickly rotating these out. According to the company website: They are moving to “an encryption-enabled terminal to securely process credit and debit card information. … We have deployed additional terminals to our restaurants, which has helped the speed and automation of our transactions. It has also allowed our restaurants to begin phasing out the manual credit card imprinting. In the near future, we will complete the deployment of new hardware and begin the transition back to our standard card processing system.”

» MORE: How to Dispute Fraudulent Credit Card Charges

Bottom line: If you’ve dined at P.F. Chang’s, check your credit card statements for June to see if your card was compromised. If so, alert your card provider. As for machines, they’re here stay at some restaurant locations until the company completes its investigation into the breach, according to the company’s security hotline.

Recordkeeping image via Shutterstock