Skimming a national problem
Mar 10, 2013 (South Bend Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
When people pull into a gas station or go to an ATM and swipe their credit or debit cards, most only fear leaving their receipts behind.
But in the ever-changing world of crime, there's another reason to be careful -- skimming.
The practice has been around for several years, and thankfully has not been a major problem in Indiana, specifically northern Indiana, according to the Indianapolis office of the U.S. Secret Service.
"But like many of these crimes, it's very cyclical," said Lewis Robinson, assistant special agent in charge of the Indianapolis office. "We'll see maybe some down in Evansville and Indianapolis, but it's very cyclical."
How does a criminal skim an ATM or credit card
When a credit or debit card is skimmed, data -- including the account number -- is electronically transmitted or stored, according to the Secret Service, which investigates such crimes. The credit card's information can then be encoded onto a lost, stolen or counterfeit credit card and used anywhere in the world.
According to the Secret Service, cameras are sometimes used around ATMs to also capture a person's PIN, or personal identification number, that is punched in after the card is swiped.
Jim Seitz, president of 1st Source Bank, agreed the crime seems to run in streaks. It is not a problem in this area currently, he said. But he was in Nashville, Tenn., recently and that area was encountering the problem at several ATMs.
are key to stopping
Seitz believes one of the keys to stopping the crime is awareness of the crime and how it works.
Though skimming isn't so prevalent in our region, it is a problem in the banking industry and one that Notre Dame Federal Credit Union takes seriously, said Brian Vitale, director of compliance and risk management.
"Skimming is a quick and hands-free way of capturing card information," he said. "It can be a problem if you don't stay on top of it."
He says one of the keys to stopping skimming is education of credit union and bank employees to be mindful of skimming devices.
"They all receive training in anti-fraud yearly, as well as visits by compliance," he said. "They are required and do inspect their ATMs often."
Vitale said a good skimmer makes it difficult to detect the skimming device.
Older ATMs, which engulfed the card during the transaction before releasing it at the conclusion of the transaction, were easier targets for criminals, he said.
"The old-school criminals would insert the skimming device into the machine so you would never see it," he said.
Harder to skim
But the newer machines where the card never leaves the hand of the user and is quickly inserted and pulled out are harder to skim, he said.
"We have just upgraded virtually all of our ATMs in the last 12 months," Seitz said. Diagnostics are built into the new machines that should pick up if it's being skimmed, he said.
"Normally, they don't put them on the inside of the machine, but put them on the interface. And if you are not looking close, it's going to be where you swipe that card in and out, and it's going to be outside of that. As you are swiping that card in and out, they are picking up that information."
Consumers need to be vigilant. If something does not look or feel right when they are swiping the card, it likely is not right, Vitale and Seitz said. And the consumer should contact the bank, credit union or gas station and police immediately. Don't take for granted the employees will contact authorities, Vitale said.
Vitale says he also receives e-mail alerts to any skimming alarm that goes off at any of the company's ATM sites.
"All our ATMs are connected and we are watching them at all times electronically," Vitale said. "If there's any skimming alarm, and there can be a thousand reasons why a skimming alarm goes off, that comes straight to my mailbox, and those are investigated."
He says credit card readers at gas stations can also be targets.
In fact, anywhere you use a debit or credit card, skimming could happen, including restaurants, where an employee might opt to swipe it a second time on a hand-held device to get the needed information, said Robinson from the Secret Service.
Vitale said he once attended a conference where Frank Abagnale Jr., the man whose life is the basis of the movie "Catch Me If You Can," advised to never use a debit card, just a credit card, because the debit card takes money directly from an account.
Vitale, however, said he believes the chance of someone skimming a consumer's debit card are very low.
Consumers protected by Regulation E
More importantly, consumers are protected by Regulation E, Vitale said, whereby banks or credit unions reimburse consumers for such losses.
Still, banking officials say that people should check their statements at least monthly. Seitz said he does it daily. That way a person can catch wrongdoing at the outset.
The Secret Service also suggested that statements should be checked routinely.
"If something looks out of the normal," Vitale says, "contact your bank or credit union and they will investigate it."
If it's determined it's a type of fraud, the victim will fill out a fraud affidavit and the bank or credit union will investigate in a timely manner.
Robinson says consumers should try to keep an eye on their credit cards at all times, even at stores.
Though skimming is not known for happening much in Indiana, it has happened enough nationwide that consumers need to be aware of it, Robinson said.
Staff writer Jim Meenan:
Tips to avoid skimming fraud
--If you notice something unusual on a gas pump or ATM, contact authorities.
--Keep your credit card in sight even at stores and restaurants as an employee could be using a hand-held device to run it through a second time.
--Often, according to the U.S. Secret Service, fraudulent transactions occur within 24 to 48 hours after the information has been stolen. That's why it's important to regularly review your credit card statements.
--Cover the number pad as you enter your PIN. Also make sure the card is swiped only once at a register.
--If you suspect you may be a victim of skimming, contact local police and or the U.S. Secret Service's Indianapolis Field Office at 317-635-6420.
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