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Thieves use special devices to rob ATMs

December 4, 2009 3:15:40 PM PST
The Secret Service is investigating ATM thefts at two suburban banks. Thieves are accused of using an electronic device to steal tens of thousands of dollars from bank accounts. The thefts occurred at banks in Buffalo Grove and Mount Prospect.

Crooks appear to be getting ever more brazen with these latest skimming incidents. Over the last two months in Mount Prospect they got away with over $20,000 after installing card readers on a drive through ATM. But that was stopped when someone or some group did the same to an ATM inside a bank lobby and got away with over $70,000.

The Buffalo Grove ATM was outfitted with a device on November -- which yielded crooks banking information and personal identity numbers that allowed them to pilfer hundreds of accounts.

"Last week, I had somebody that got my PIN number and charged something in New Jersey," said Richard Graf, skimming victim.

The United States Secret Service investigates these kinds of crimes because an "access device" of some sort was used.

The agency that was signed into law the day President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated was actually created to fight counterfeiting.

"This is advancing such when the technology gets better, the equipment they need to commit the crime is smaller, more compact," said Kristina Schmidt, US Secret Service.

Schmidt says law enforcement's challenge is to stay ahead of criminal organizations -- primarily Eastern European in origin -- that are adept at using technology that looks like bank-issued equipment to read magnetic stripes of cards. They also install pinhole cameras like this to obtain customer pins.

The Secret Service says they have seen evidence where crooks walk away with reams of card information and video of customer pins, and match up the data using time stamps from both sources. They then manufacture bogus cards and loot accounts often with impunity.

"Place your hand over the terminal and punch in the PIN; there is no way to access your account," Schmidt said.

That kind of advice is sometimes hard to apply, for example at the drive through Bank of America branch that was hit in October and November. Bank of America, like Chase, stresses customer accounts are reimbursed as soon as unauthorized withdrawals are reported.

Bank of America adds, "We monitor our ATMs regularly for any unusual activity; however we encourage our customers to let us know immediately if they see anything unusual at the ATM."

"I don't see why someone can't look at the ATM to make sure it looks normal," said Nathan Fenton, bank customer.

The Secret Service says skimming crime is worth at least a million dollars per year in the Chicago region. And they expect that number to grow.


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