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Has Natural Grocers Been Hacked Again?
by Mark Cammack February 4, 2020
Natural Grocers Casa Linda location in Dallas, Texas: Odd and as yet unexplained credit card terminal activity happened here.
Imagine shopping in a store as you always have. You go to the check-out, place your card in the terminal to pay, and your card is declined. You know that your card is good. You retry, and other errors and pin number requests that never happen pop-up. A store assistant uses a different terminal. The electronic shenanigans continue. They try to punch in the card information manually - literally racing against the clock within a window of a few seconds - to no avail. You then offer to use a second card for the purchase. The events repeat. Another person uses their card and the terminal declines it, too. Finally a fourth card goes through. What is going on?
That is what happened at the Natural Grocers Casa Linda branch in Dallas, Texas. It began in January 2020. It turned out that the Natural Grocers chain was hacked previously in the years 2014 to 2015 according to news articles. Customer's credit card information was compromised. Has hacking history repeated itself?
I spoke with financial institution persons regarding the strange events. One lady was quite helpful:
"When a card is placed in any terminal, we should have a record of it. We have no record of a card being at Natural Grocers," she stated.
"This begs a question. If the data did not go to the card provider, where did it go?" I asked.
"That's right. Where did it go?" she continued.
I reiterated that three cards were observed to receive terminal errors, while a fourth one went through OK for payment. I wondered about the possibility of a hacker going after a subset of credit cards or a certain number range.
"Were they all MasterCards that gave errors? They all begin with the number 5," she said. Indeed that was the case. The terminals were malfunctioning with MasterCards, while the fourth card, a Visa, worked. She recommended that any cards having been used at Natural Grocers be immediately replaced with new ones with new numbers: "Sometimes it can take a while before someone's account is affected. It is better to go ahead and get new cards."
I returned to visit Natural Grocers. I was met by an edgy staff. They did not want to talk about the matter. I then tried contacting the main Natural Grocers headquarters. No one has yet responded to their online form, and a telephone call resulted in receiving a message that stated it could take five days for a reply. Five days is a long time if there is a problem now.
As of today, a new or continued hacking of Natural Grocers has not been confirmed by the company. We don't know yet. We do have some strange events and oddly behaving systems. Where did the data go?
Update: I managed to reach an operator instead of a machine at Natural Grocers HQ on February 5, 2020. Upon explaining no one from their company was responding, she stated she would forward the information to customer service.
Finally on February 10, 2020, customer service person Rachel emailed and stated a team would look into the matter. I never heard from the team.
On the 14th, she further stated that,"card/banking information remains secure at all times." They have been hacked previously and seemingly haven't a clue as to what happened to the recent data. Are we to believe everything we are told? I sent a detailed reply to multiple persons at Natural Grocers including an executive. This regarded the need for a competent professional to address the issue since no one had answered the important questions. Shortly afterwards, a man who said his name was Scott and the Vice President of Information Technology for Natural Grocers emailed. He said that they were having problems processing some credit card and credit union transactions but did not state the cause: "Periodically we do experience issues with processing transactions..."
Ashford, Warwick. "US retailer Natural Grocers investigates data breach." 2 March 2015.
Goldman, Jeff. "Natural Grocers Hacked." 6 March 2015.
Krebs, Brian. "Natural Grocers Investigating Card Breach." 2 March 2015.
Stosh, Brandon. "Natural Grocers Investigates Possible Card Breach." 3 March 2015.
Wikipedia. "List of data breaches."
© Copyright 2020 Mark Cammack. All rights reserved.