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Order a pizza recently? Consumer agency issues alert about alarming new scam

The elaborate scam has been difficult to track.
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/ Source: TODAY

There’s nothing quite like the sense of mild panic (or confusion) that happens when you see an unrecognized charge on your credit card statement. If rummaging through receipts and mentally retracing your shopping steps doesn't lead to an answer, there's the inevitable realization that your information might have been stolen.

Unfortunately, several people who tried to order pizza experienced this familiar series of events, prompting the Better Business Bureau to issue a warning to consumers and restaurants about a surprising new scam.

The scam was first reported over the summer, but earlier this month the BBB of Eastern North Carolina issued a new alert about the tactic thieves are using to collect customers' credit card information. Unlike many scams in the digital age that involve hacking into computers, this heist involves hacking into phone lines.

Julia Cherry, the communications director for the BBB in Northern Alabama, explained how it works: A person posing as a customer will walk into a pizza store and ask to use the restaurant's phone for an emergency. Instead of making a call, however, the scammer is actually rerouting the business' calls to another number. Then, when unsuspecting customers dial up their favorite pizza eatery to place an order, they're really just handing over their credit card info to a scammer — and they certainly won't be getting any food.

Two locations of Marco’s Pizza (which has over 800 franchise-operated locations) were among those affected, according to the BBB. Employees at the chains realized they weren't receiving any incoming calls and alerted their phone company. That's when they were told their lines had been compromised.

"One of our stores was compromised for a short period of time," Jerry Schoo, a franchise owner of Marco's in Decatur, Alabama, told WHNT. "They did get a couple of customers to speak to. They placed orders with the scammers. The scammers got their credit card information."

In addition to the Decatur store, another Marco's in Madison, Alabama, was affected by the scam.

"As far as I am aware, it hasn’t made its way anywhere outside of Alabama, but our BBB believes that it is best to educate consumers and business owners about the possibilities of this coming their way," Alyssa Parker of the BBB of Eastern North Carolina told TODAY. Since the scam is difficult to track and is affecting small business owners, the organization said it may be spreading nationwide.

Parker said customers need to be made aware of the scam as it’s easily replicable at other restaurants that take orders by phone. In addition to warning consumers, local BBB offices are also issuing warnings to businesses via social media alerts, emails and newsletters.

Some warning signs to note? “Always be aware of typical business trends and if they ever change," Parker said. "If it’s Friday night and the phone is typically ringing off the hook with orders and this Friday it’s not ringing at all, do some investigating.”

For customers, Parker recommends using a credit card instead of a debit card when purchasing items over the phone because they typically have better security protection if the information is stolen or compromised. She also advised checking bank account and credit card statements regularly to spot any unrecognized charges quickly.