A card skimmer removed from a Metropolitan Transit Authority machine in New York. | Courtesy Metropolitan Transit Authority
August 8, 2016 07:20AM
By Jason Vallee
Sun staff writer
WESTERLY — Imagine going out for a night on the town and heading to a local restaurant or bar with friends and family. You wake up the next day, credit or debit card still in hand, to find your account has been drained.
It’s a worst-case scenario for the average consumer, but an increasing reality as credit and debit card skimming continues to rise at a rapid rate — and law enforcment officials across Rhode Island have been placed on alert to be on the lookout for potential operations after a reported increase of skimming statewide in recent weeks.
“We’ve been fortunate not to have any calls from victims (in Westerly), but it is a growing problem and it’s something the state has sent a bulletin to be aware of due to increased activity,” said Interim Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey.
Credit and debit card skimming has grown into a widespread issue in recent years, according to data from the FICO Card Alert Service, a company that specializes in credit scores and trends. The company reported that in 2015, attacks on debit cards used in the U.S. reached a 20-year high, with thefts related to skimming cases alone accounting for more than $2 billion in reported losses.
To make matters worse, the company reports that the trend appears to be continuing into 2016, with outbreaks of skimming activity reaching a much broader range of U.S. communities than in years past.
Rhode Island State Police reported that in July, there was an exponential increase in reported incidents in the state, particularly in areas surrounding Providence.
Card skimming, according to the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, is a financial crime that involves using the magnetic strip on an active credit or debit card to steal account information. The most common form is ATM skimming, which involves the installation of a device on an ATM that covers the card reader. In these cases, the device stores account information while a hidden camera captures a pin code, allowing theives to create a “replica” card to access the account.
Recent advancements in technology have made skimming efforts more widespread, however, with handheld card devices, cell phone technology and pay-at-the-pump skimmers increasing by more than 300 percent over the past two years — and a case in Westerly this week hits close to home.
Police investigating a reported car theft took local resident Michael A. Corey into custody Tuesday after he was found in possession of card-skimming equipment, blank credit cards and other tools commonly used for the skimming and reproduction of customer credit cards.
Corey, who remains in state custody on charges related to the vehicle theft, was employed at an unidentified Connecticut resataurant and admitted to officers he recently started using the equipment after learning how it worked, Lacey said.
There was no evidence of a direct victim, Lacey said, and the case remains active as the department continues to investigate whether Corey had obtained or used any customer information illegally. The department is working across state lines and with other agencies, he said.
Further details of the case were not available.
Lacey said the discovery is just the latest example of the challenge facing law enforcement officers and customers nationwide.
“Most of the time, you see this in restaurants or other businesses where the perpetrator is able to walk away from the card owner,” Lacey explained. “In many cases, the victim won’t know what occurred until they receive an alert from their credit card company or bank.”
Companies such as Ziosk are fighting back, offering businesses an opportunity to protect their customers at sit down restuarants by including an on-table kiosk that customers can pay at. The technology is already in use by several major chain restuarants including Chili’s, Ruby Tuesdays and Uno Pizzeria.
But the best protection, according to the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, comes from the consumer.
Consumers are advised to never let their card out of sight and to check equipment at ATMs or gas stations for unusual equipment or other red flags.
“The best protection is to just be alert,” Lacey said.
Preventing and detecting credit card skimming
Credit card skimming incidents can be difficult to detect, especially since the card is never stolen. Monitor checking and credit card accounts online at least weekly and immediately report any suspicious activity. Here are a few more tips for avoiding credit card skimming.
• Watch where you shop. Restaurants, bars, and gas stations seem to be the places where credit card incidents happen most frequently. That’s because cardholders are comfortable letting their cards leave their sight in these places. But, if you can’t see your credit card, it could be getting skimmed.
• Know what a credit card skimmer looks like. Krebs on Security has a few pictures of credit card skimmers that demonstrates how difficult it is to detect the devices, which have become smaller and more difficult to detect over the years.
• Check ATMs before using them. At ATMs, skimmers often place a camera within view of the keypad to steal your PIN. Or, they place a fake keypad on top of the real one to record your keystrokes. When you’re using an ATM, cover your hand as you type your PIN to keep a camera from catching a view of what you’re typing. If the keys seem hard to push, eject your card and use another ATM.
Information provided by the U.S. Office of the Comptroller of the Currency