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Joe Russo Comments on the $217,000 'Skimmed' from Long Island ATMs

June 09, 2010

The Wall Street Journal reported today that $217,000 had been ‘skimmed’ from ATMs located at Long Island banks between April and the end of May.  Cloned debit cards were obtained in a scam that involves the use of a device known as a “skimmer” or a “parasite,” a piece of equipment that looks exactly like an ATM’s bank card reader.  When the skimmer is placed over the ATM’s card slot, an unsuspecting customer inserts a bank card and the device records the customer’s banking information while permitting the transaction to be completed.

T&M’s Joe Russo, Senior Vice President of the Executive Protection division and retired U.S. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge, once headed the Secret Service’s Credit Card Fraud Squad and commented to the Wall Street Journal that skimming has been around for the past 30 years.  In fact, the crime really accelerated in the mid to late-1990s, as magnetic strip readers and recorders became more accessible to criminals.

Mr. Russo recounted one case in which waiters had obtained small skimming devices that they hid inside their jackets.  Customers would hand over cards to pay for their meals and the waiters would discreetly skim the cards prior to returning the card to the customer. The information skimmed was then sold to gang members in China, who created clones of the cards that could be used anywhere in the world the next day.

“It took us a long time to figure out how a card was getting burned up in Hong Kong when it was still in the guy’s wallet,” Mr. Russo said.

How to avoid the ‘skimming’ scam:

  • Whenever possible, make sure your card stays in your sight at all times and do not let anyone leave your presence with the card if you can avoid it.  Be aware that skimming can occur most easily at restaurants, since the waiter or waitress has to walk back to the register with your card.  If you are concerned about letting your card out of your sight, use cash instead.
  • Monitor credit and debit card receipts and check them carefully against your statements.  Be sure you can confirm all charges.  Be advised that skimmers will sometimes steal small amounts over a period of time in hopes that you won’t notice.
  • Shred old or unwanted financial statements and credit card offers.
  • Remember that you can request that credit bureaus monitor your accounts for unusual spending patterns and require them to notify you before a new credit card can be issued in your name.

If you think you have been a victim of ‘skimming,’ take these steps:

  • Call the police and issue a police report.
  • Contact your bank or credit card issuer immediately and tell them your card was stolen.  It is important to report your suspicion quickly to avoid being held liable for some or all of the unauthorized charges.
  • You may want to consider contacting the major credit bureaus to request a security freeze, which prevents new credit authorizations without your consent.