Living with credit, Protecting yourself

Burned by barbecue: Lessons from a credit card crime spree

John Egan

It always pains me to read about crooks ripping off people through credit card schemes, whether it’s hackers snatching your personal information or thieves installing data-stealing skimmers at gas pumps.

But a credit card crime I just came across hits home in the most literal sense.

An alleged barbecue bandit

The owner of a barbecue joint in my hometown of Olathe, Kansas, stands accused of taking a credit card that a customer had left behind and putting $7,355 in purchases on it. In all, Matthew R. Sander, who owns Smokin’ Joe’s Bar-B-Q, faces 14 criminal charges in this case.

Now, rather than wasting my time and energy on Sander’s alleged exploits, I’d like to focus on the wise moves that the alleged victim made.

According to a March 21 report by The Kansas City Star (where I interned way back when), the customer ate at the barbecue place Jan. 28 and used his credit card to pay for the meal. The next day, however, he couldn’t locate the card.

When the customer called the restaurant to inquire about the missing card, he was told by employees that they couldn’t find it.

What would you do?

Before I go on, let me ask you what you’d have done next.

Would you have figured the card was lost and have done absolutely nothing?

Would you have raced to the restaurant to scream at the employees for losing your card?

Would you have posted a bad review of the restaurant on Yelp?

I hope your answer to each of those questions was “no.”

If your card goes missing, call your issuer

What you should have done, and what the alleged victim did, was to contact the credit card issuer. That way, you can prevent further trouble, even though you wouldn’t have been on the hook for more than $50 in fraudulent charges. (Most major card issuers offer zero liability in cases of fraud.)

Another smart step that the alleged victim took was to check his next credit card statement.

What did he discover? A bunch of unauthorized purchases, all of which occurred Jan. 28 – the same day that the cardholder had dined at the restaurant.

Bed, bath and booze

It seems that Sander wasted no time in going on an alleged spending spree, according to the Star:

  • $2,134 spent at Bed Bath & Beyond. (That’s a lot of sheets and towels!)
  • $1,575 spent at Kohl’s. (That’s a lot of everything!)
  • $999 spent at The Home Depot. (That’s a lot of paint and plywood!)
  • $936 spent at Academy Sports + Outdoors. (That’s a lot of footwear and fishing poles!)
  • $859 spent at a liquor store. (That’s a lot of vodka!)
  • $322 at Garozzo’s restaurant. (That’s a lot of spaghetti!)

Frankly, I don’t know that I could (or would) rack up that many charges in what had to have been just a few hours. That’s what I’d call a power shopper – and a power drinker and power eater.

Repeat offender?

Sadly, this isn’t Sander’s first run-in with the law related to a credit card.

The Star reports that Sander was charged earlier in March with theft, identity theft and criminal use of a financial card, all tied to crimes allegedly carried out Jan. 25 in Overland Park, a neighboring suburb of Olathe. In this case, the alleged victim was not the same person as the Smokin’ Joe’s customer.

As such, Sander very well could be a repeat offender.

Food for thought

So, allow me to summarize the lessons that you can take away from what Sander allegedly perpetrated:

  • If your credit card goes missing, search for it, but be sure to cancel the card as soon as you realize it really has vanished.
  • Carefully review your credit card statement every month to look for purchases that you didn’t make.
  • When patronizing a restaurant, pay with a credit card, instead of a debit card, if the card will be out of your sight for any length of time. If something fishy were to happen, the consumer protections you’re afforded with a credit card are better than with a debit card.
  • After you’ve dined at a restaurant and paid your tab with a credit card, double-check your pockets, wallet or purse – as well as the “check presenter” that held your receipt – to be sure you grabbed the card. On several occasions, I’ve left my credit card at restaurants because I didn’t follow that bit of advice.

The overarching message I get from this hometown heist is that when it comes to your credit cards, trust no one but yourself. We certainly can’t always trust someone close to us with one of our credit cards. And we can’t always trust ourselves to use our own credit cards responsibly.

See related: True tales of card victims who fought back, Why you should file a police report for card fraud

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