You’ve just finished the last bite of a delicious meal. It was worth every penny, and as you put your John Hancock on the credit card receipt, you make certain that you leave a good tip to show your appreciation of the meal.

That meal will remain a good memory, until several months later when you start receiving bill collector calls, or strange merchandise that you didn’t order is being delivered to your door with your name on it.

Identity theft unfortunately happens frequently at restaurants and bars, usually involving credit card fraud. Investigations often discover skimmers on the credit card readers, which capture and store the data embedded in the cards. This data is then used to add additional bogus charges to that account, or create new purchasing accounts in the victim’s name, without the victim’s knowledge.

So how do you protect yourself when eating out? Here are three tips to help protect your identity:

1. Pay in cash. It might feel dangerous to carry around a large amount of cash to cover all the evening’s activities, but even if you lose the cash, in the long run it’s a better deal than if someone steals your credit card number and runs up the balance making online purchases.

2. Keep your eye on your card. When at a restaurant or bar and using a credit card to pay for your meal and drinks, watch the server the entire time the card is in the server’s hands. Some establishments will have mobile scanners, allowing the server to process the payment right there in front of you.

3. Report any suspicious activity on your account. Your local law enforcement team might already be investigating other victims of a similar crime.

Dinning out is supposed to be pleasant and relaxing, so keep your identity protected so you can enjoy the meal well after the final bite.

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