Skimming scams are on the rise in Western Washington, according to local cops, and you may not realize you’ve been taken until long after thieves have stolen your credit card or debit card information.
Bellevue Police Detective Shelby Shearer and Kirkland Police Detective Don Carroll told the Attorney General’s LEGIT (Law Enforcement Against Identity Theft) task force that thieves are ordering skimmers over the Internet then fitting them over the legit card readers found on ATM machines, bank lobby doors, gas pumps, and even Red Box rental machines. They’ll often install a pinhole camera, as well, to record you entering your PIN on the keypad.
Thieves purchase the skimmers for about $300 from outlets in Eastern Europe. The parts are custom designed to look like the real deal. For another $5,000, they can obtain the equipment needed to produce counterfeit credit cards using your stolen information.
I’ll say it again: These bits of plastic can be impossible to detect. But that doesn’t mean you’re totally defenseless:
- Use ATM machines during normal banking hours. The detectives said it’s not uncommon for thieves to hit right after a bank closes. They’ll install the skimmer, head to a bar down the block for drinks, then return in a few hours to detach the skimmer and be on their way.
- Many ATM machines are located inside bank lobbies. To access the machines after hours, you need to swipe a card at the door. Thieves are placing skimmers over those building access readers. But the truth is: it doesn’t matter which card you swipe, provided you choose one with a magnetic stripe. You should be able to gain access by simply using your grocery club card, for example. And you probably don't care if you give a thief the opportunity save 50 cents on cereal.
- Avoid rogue ATMs. Thieves have been known to put out-of-order signs on legitimate ATMs and set up nearby freestanding bogus ones. ATMs located inside banks within view of surveillance cameras aren't risk-free, but they pose more challenges for crooks installing skimming equipment.
- When using a debit card to purchase gasoline, choose to run it as a credit card. That way, you won’t be prompted to enter your PIN. Thieves may still be able to use your account for purchases, but won’t be able to make instant cash withdrawals without the PIN.
- Instead of using an ATM for withdrawals, ask for cash back when making an in-store purchase. (Of course, it’s still possible for your information to be stolen at the register, as seen in the recent terminal tampering at Michaels Stores.)
- Shield the keypad with your hand or a piece of paper while entering your PIN.
- Check your statements regularly for any unauthorized purchases or withdrawals.
- Obviously, if a card scanner appears to have been tampered with, don’t use it. You can sometimes spot pinhole cameras if you examine the panel above the keypad.
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