Restaurant works to rebuild trust

FAIRMONT – As Fairmont police and the Secret Service continue to investigate a data breach at El Agave restaurant, customers are starting to come back to one of Fairmont’s most popular establishments.

“It’s so fresh that we don’t know how bad it is yet,” said Noe Juarez, who manages El Agave in Fairmont and St. Peter. “We really felt it Monday and Tuesday.”

Late last week, police informed management that credit and debit cards used at El Agave had been compromised.

“The banks were calling the police,” Juarez said. “At the time, it was only like eight. Then on Friday, we learned there were hundreds. It was bad because it was a weekend, and business really slowed down.”

The data breach was through the restaurant’s point-of-sale computer, which was in the process of being upgraded. Credit and debit cards used there since November were compromised when the point-of-sale connection was hacked by an outside entity and the card information was stolen.

“Now we are doing all our credit through a dial-up line, so there is no Internet access to the POS system,” Juarez said. “It’s the safest way to go. If this hadn’t happened, the upgrade would be installed by now.”

One concern raised by police and Juarez is that the data breach here is not an isolated incident.

“A common entry point is El Agave, in Fairmont, but this doesn’t mean that other frauds not connected to this immediate spike, isn’t occurring,” said Fairmont Police Chief Greg Brolsma. “Investigators report getting a couple of these per week on average. One benefit is that people are checking their accounts at a much closer rate.”

“We know of people who have never used their cards here, and they still had their accounts compromised,” Juarez said. “Our biggest concern is that even with us fixing this, data breaches will continue and we will still get blamed. We are doing whatever we need to do to prevent it on our side and hope other businesses will keep an eye on theirs as well … I’ve been reading that restaurants all over the country are being targeted like this.”

Juarez said there have been many supportive customers, but not all were so understanding,

“Some have attacked,” Juarez said. “I knew to expect all types of reactions. We feel bad because we know how hard it is to go through all that, calling the 800 numbers, getting new cards and trying to fix it.”

While Wednesday saw a modest boost in business at El Agave, there was still room to park in the first block of Downtown Plaza for the lunch hour, with several open tables still available.

“A lot more people are paying in cash, and I don’t mind that,” Juarez said. “But we want everyone here to feel safe and more secure. We are telling customers they can choose to pay at the front instead of at their table, whatever feels most comfortable for them.”

Juarez has been using the El Agave Facebook page to keep its 1,300 followers up to date on how the restaurant is handling the issue.

“We’ve been getting great responses,” he said. “They like that we keep them informed on what’s going on … It’s taken hard work and a long time to gain a good reputation and I’m sad to see that all this happened so quick to turn that around. But our customers are smart, and know that this wasn’t intentional. We need to just work harder now … We appreciate the support and don’t want to let them down. We want them to feel secure when they use their cards here.”

Since the initial wave of debit and credit card frauds were reported, Brolsma said the investigation is in a holding pattern, and banks are busy working with customers to isolate fraudulent charges, issuing new cards and stopping the potential for other loss.

Anyone concerned that their debit or credit card has been compromised, or if there are suspicious charges on an account, should contact their bank or credit card company immediately.

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