Pizza Garden restaurant is back on track, recovering from a computer hacker that damaged its reputation and cost the Lompoc business thousands in lost profits, said owner Larry Williams.

The computer system has been fixed, he said.

“This experience has really given our crew a chance to unite,” said Williams. “Any small business with crew members is like a family.”

It’s not the loss of money so much as it was the unwarranted damage to Pizza Garden’s reputation, he said.

The problem with the computer system popped up in May, when some customers who used payment cards at the Pizza Garden noticed that charges started appearing on their statements that they didn’t make.

And CoastHills Federal Credit Union found that unauthorized charges were made to some 600 of its customers’ accounts. Those customers had one thing in common — they had all used their cards at the Pizza Garden. CoastHills sent out a letter to those customers advising them to use cash at the Pizza Garden instead.

Williams feared that his customers might think that the unauthorized charges were being made by his restaurant.

The Lompoc Police Department investigated and, according to Sgt. Lane Middleton, they have now found that someone placed malware (malicious software) on the restaurant’s computer-based ordering and payment system.

Foreign hackers have been targeting such systems and stealing payment card information off of them. Cases have been reported across the country.

Williams says he knows of another such case in Lompoc and one in Orcutt.

Unauthorized charges are then made to the cards, often from far-flung places around the world. CoastHills noticed charges on the affected cards coming in from Vietnam.

Customers who report unauthorized charges to their card issuer usually have the charges removed. The payment cards are canceled by the issuer, so that further charges by the thieves can’t be made. The financial institution issues another card right away, but for many card users it’s a big hassle to be without their cards for a few days.

Williams said he thinks that’s why many of them just stopped coming to his restaurant. He estimated a 30-percent drop in volume in June.

“We upgraded our system,” Williams said. “We went all the way.” They invested a lot of money in it, he said, “rather than just put a patch on it.

“That probably would have been OK, but this way we know we’ve done 100 percent of what anyone could have expected us to do. We didn’t have to do it. We chose to do it.”

Mike Fundingsland, general manager of the restaurant, agreed.

“There was a cheaper way that we could have done it. We could have gotten a stand-alone unit and run all the cards manually, but in order to maintain the functionality that we had, with everything tied into the point of sale system, and with the online ordering, this is what we had to do.”

The restaurant is plunging full steam ahead with a media blitz and an ad campaign to inform the public that the new system is now in place and the problem has been resolved.

“We’re doing some new things, too. We’re giving our customers some new and different deals,” Williams said.

“We want people to know it’s OK to come back to the Pizza Garden and use their cards again.”

Williams said now that things are back on track, he’s going ahead with plans to franchise the Pizza Garden.


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