With the potential for yielding more profits for criminals than dealing drugs, skimming is becoming an increasing problem at gas stations and ATMs throughout America. In 2009, skimmers stole more than $1 billion across the country and the amount is increasing every year.
Apparently, it is not that complicated to commit this crime. Thieves rig a gas pump or ATM with their own card scanner, typically installing it right on top of the machine’s original card terminal. When a customer swipes their card to pay, the foreign reader lifts data off the card’s magnetic strip which it then stores or transmits wirelessly to a computer located nearby. Meanwhile, a tiny camera that has been mounted above the keypad (hidden perhaps in the light that serves to illuminate the machine) records images of your fingers typing in your PIN. Crooks then have everything they need to manufacture copies of your card with which they can access your accounts and charge up a storm, often wreaking a lot of havoc before you even have any idea something may be amiss. The equipment used to siphon off people’s private information takes swindlers only moments to install and seems to be, based upon the increasing incidents of skimming popping up across the nation, worth the effort.
As published in the 2011 Data Breach Investigation Report which was compiled by Verizon with assistance from, among others, the Secret Service, there were 137 gas pump skimmer cases nationwide last year, twice as many as in 2009. A Secret Service spokesperson stated that criminals looking to swipe people’s info at the pump prefer to seek out stations in high-traffic areas such as ones near busy highway exits to install their scamware.
There are some protective measures companies can employ to protect their customers against such theft but, as Director of Risk Intelligence for Verizon Wade Baker admits, “the game changes pretty dramatically when the purpose of the system is to be used by the public. People have to be able to walk up to a gas pump 24 hours a day. You can’t put a barricade around it.”
A few easy things consumers can do to thwart thieves are to cover the keypad with their free hand while entering their PIN number to obscure any view a camera may have of their fingers punching in a code, avoid (and report) any ATMs that have plastic overlays covering their keypads or any glue or glue residue visible around the keypad’s corners, and regularly review their bank and credit card statements to keep an eye out for any unusual activity. If any are found, report it immediately to the bank or credit card company.