Fraud Alert: August is the Prime Month for Debit Card Skimmer Thieves


Thieves employing debit card “skimmers” at the pump find August–peak driving season nationwide–lucrative for fraud, ripping off distracted drivers.

Skimmers have been around since about 2002. Sociopathic thieves are constantly improving the sophistication and effectiveness of their devices. Some of the skimmers incorporate features that include pin-hole camera real-time monitoring key-pad input, and can even incorporate sending an SMS text message to thieves’ mobile phones whenever a new card is swiped.

Skimmer devices are advertised for sale on Internet online criminal forums for about $1,500. The various devices are easily affixed on the top of the mouth of ATM and gas pump credit card readers to obtain a victim’s card numbers and the 3 or 4 digit Card Security Code.

Some of the skimmers are extremely sophisticated, incorporating features such the ability to send an SMS text message to the thieves’ mobile phone whenever a new card is swiped.

There are about 2.2 million ATMs worldwide, which are expected to increase to more than 3 million by 2016. A new ATM is installed every five minutes. The United States has the world’s largest number of ATMs, with approximately 425,000.

The report, written by Pace University professor Darren Hayes for the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, warns that the United States is the prime location for thieves to skim cards because American credit and debit cards are not “EMV-compliant” by containing an embedded global chip.

“The problem for the U.S. as well is that more than half of ATMs are independently owned and they are not affiliated with a bank,” said Hayes. “It’s more difficult to have a bank policy that’s going to protect the majority of ATMs because that’s not the case in the U.S.”

search on Twitter for “ATM skimmer” brings up lots of local horror stories and plenty of local news reports. But criminals are now so bold as to advertise skimmers for sale on the same search.

The easiest way to recognize a skimmer is usually the odd protrusion or off-color component on an ATM or gas pump credit-card reader.

When using a debit or credit card:

  • at a gas station, choose the option to make a purchase as a credit card, rather than entering a debit card PIN number;
  • since criminals are shy about getting caught on surveillance cameras, stay away from ATMs and gas pumps not located in publicly visible and well-lit areas;
  • use gas pumps nearest to the cashier; and
  • pay attention to bank doors that require use of a card and PIN for late night use.

The most important way to avoid being ripped off is to monitor bank accounts regularly to spot any unusual or unauthorized charges. Be especially wary of $1.00 charges, which criminals use to see if cards work before making numerous charges at different locations.

August may be your vacation month, but do not make it easy for criminals to rob you while you are traveling.


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