One of an occasional series.
Crooks are growing ever more sophisticated in their efforts to raid your bank account via automated cash machines. Don’t let them catch you slipping. Game on!
First of two parts.
“Deck the halls with crooks deceiving,
Tis the season when they’re thieving,
It sounds like a player cheating at a poker table, but this is potentially far more damaging.
If thieves aren’t trying to steal your money through automated teller machines, they’re trying to steal your bank information, which to a crook is as valuable as cash.
This can really mess you up if it happens while you’re traveling abroad.
Once you notify your bank back home, they will immediately freeze your account and block any cards trying to access it. That thwarts the thieves, but it also may leave you stuck for cash a long way from home. Not good.
But you don’t have to be on the other side of the world for this to be a concern. You may be even more vulnerable to skimming right here at home. According to the folks at bankinfosecurity.com, skimming attempts have been detected so far this year in at least of the 50 United States.
Nor is just ATM machines or banks that are being hit. Any business that runs your card through a machine — restaurants, grocery stores, gas stations, anyplace — is a potential target for skimmers.
For more details, check out bankinfosecurity.com’s article here.
The problem lies in that little magnetic strip on the back of your bank card that stores your financial and personal data. It is totally vulnerable to being breached by thieves.
Europe is switching to cards that store your information on embedded chips called EMVs that are much tougher to crack, but we over here have stayed with the old magnetic strip, which pretty much leaves you hanging where ATM security is concerned.
Check out this story from Snopes.com on how this scam works. Note carefully the images includes with the article.
Initially, skimming was crude, i.e., things jammed into the card slot to hold the card in the machine and make you think the ATM had kept your card. When you leave, they come in behind you, fish out the card and its info.
It might even be something as simple as peeking over your shoulder as you punch in your PIN number — and that still happens, by the way.
Over the years, though, with the aid of digital technology, the bad guys have become more sophisticated about ripping you off:
1. They can plant phony envelope holders and other innocuous-looking objects on the ATM machine that contain hidden surveillance cameras. The cameras are positioned to record your card number, as well as the the PIN numbers you punch into the machine. The crooks themselves can be as much as a mile away.
2. They may hide a tiny microphone on the ATM to pick up the tones made as you punch in each number of your PIN — again, recorded remotely. The tones easily enable them to figure out your PIN number without needing to see anything.
Armed with your precious card number and passcode, they can burn those numbers onto a blank ATM card at their leisure.
Just like that, they own you.
3. They can install a phony card slot over the real one. These can vary in size from a small brick that completely hides the legitimate slot to a wafer-thin device that you won’t even notice, unless you’re looking for it.
The phony slot contains a magnetic card reader. Now, the thieves don’t just have your PIN. They have ALL the personal data assigned to that card — your name, address, account numbers. Everything.
They can use this info to raid your accounts themselves, or sell it to other crooks, who will use it to make phony credit or ATM cards, which they, in turn, can sell to still more crooks.
Or they can use your personal data to apply for duplicate cards from your own bank, which may not only unwittingly grant them real bank cards for your account, but cancel yours.
Now, they really own you.
How hard is it to get skimming gear? About as hard as it is to get a cell phone, which may be one of the components. A single ATM machine st up with skimming devices can yield hundreds of thousands of dollars in cold, hard, untraceable cash.
There’s even a story out about thieves who legally obtained their own stand-alone ATM machines and placed out them i public. Anyone who runs their card one one of those machines has just given their financial info to a crook.
In part for that very reason, I was going to tell you to avoid those funky-looking little ATM machines you see in convenience stores and stick to banks, but it turns out that the bank ATMs are every bit as vulnerable to being skimmed.
According to Bob Bucceri, spokesman for the Electronic Fund Transfer Association, these scams are often the work of international organized crime:
“Many times, these are worldwide criminal rings. They may be based in places like They have people who do the street-level work here, but the scam is controlled someplace els — Russia, Ukraine, Poland.
“Say they have a scam that collects ATM card information, or credit card numbers. The ones doing the street-level work will take all the numbers they get, upload them to a garage shop operating in Ukraine or Hong Kong or St. Petersburg, Russia. They’ll manufacture vanilla cards, plain white cards with those numbers on them.
“Next morning, they’ll send a runner on a plane to London or New York, where they’ve got buyers already lined up for those cards.”
The really slick ones may not even take all your money at once. They’ll first make a very small “test” withdrawal to see if you’re paying attention to your account. If they find that you’re not, they then may go ahead with the big “score,” or just keep on periodically tapping into your funds.
In effect, you become their ATM.
Terrified yet? Now that I have your attention, I’m going to tell you why you shouldn’t be.
That’s next in Part 2.
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