By Jason A. Smith
Local and federal authorities are now looking into more than 100 cases of suspected credit-card fraud centered on an area restaurant.
Henry County Police and the United States Secret Service are investigating a series of alleged frauds, affecting recent patrons of the La Parrilla Mexican Restaurant at 1820 Jonesboro Road in McDonough.
Police Capt. Jason Bolton said authorities "haven't ruled anything out" as a possible cause of the suspected frauds, including the concept of a computer hacker as the responsible party.
"That is certainly a possibility, just like it's possible that it is an employee or an ex-employee," said Bolton. "We've been looking at it for just over a week or so now, so we're still very early in the investigation."
Police said in each of the confirmed cases, victims had purchased meals at La Parrilla in recent months, using credit cards or debit cards. Bolton said although early indications pointed to "tens of thousands" of dollars being stolen from people's bank accounts, the total losses have grown significantly in recent days.
"We've had new cases come in every day this week," he said. "In fact, I would say that [Thursday] morning alone, we took three dozen calls from people who had seen the coverage [of the case] or read it in the paper ..., and had checked their accounts and noticed that there was money missing."
Bolton said the department has "definitely" met with more than 100 victims, with losses approaching $100,000, and is "following all leads" in the case. According to him, the impact of the scheme reaches far beyond county lines.
"The charges made in all of these cases are out of state," said Bolton. "It covers multiple states across the country. From what I understand, some of the victims ... even had charges out of the country. That's where it will help us tremendously, to have the Secret Service assisting us."
Jairo Candamil, general manager at La Parrilla, said he met Wednesday with Secret Service officials, who immediately confiscated the computer system used at the restaurant.
"I'm waiting for them to tell me if [the problem] was something with the computers, or if it was someone from outside the restaurant," said Candamil. "We will be getting new equipment to handle our transactions, to make it safer for the customers and for us."
He said business at La Parrilla has been slightly affected in recent days, as word has spread concerning the alleged frauds. Candamil is hopeful customers will return to the restaurant in the coming days and weeks, while the investigation continues.
One recent customer, who suspects she may be a fraud victim in the La Parrilla case, is Alison Norsworthy, 34, of McDonough. Norsworthy said she visited the restaurant on April 24, and again on June 27, using a different credit card each time to pay for her meal.
"One of my credit card companies called me and said there had been suspicious activity on my card," she said. "Someone attempted to use it in Maryland on July 21, and it was declined. I checked my other one, and it had been successfully used in Arizona. The only common thread was La Parrilla."
Norsworthy has yet to receive confirmation from the police department, regarding her suspicion of the fraud originating at La Parrilla. Still, she said she is considering using only cash, or using it more often, to pay for her transactions.
Anyone who suspects he or she is a fraud victim in the La Parrilla case, is asked to call 911, or contact the Henry County Police Department's Watch Office at (770) 288-8210.