Crooks target consumers' cards in 'skimming'

December 10, 2010 Thieves can steal money from your account with an easy swipe of your debit card.

The Jolies and the Noyeses are good friends and neighbors: their kids play together, they go to dinner together and it appears they have now also shared in something unexpected.

They suspect their debit card information was skimmed at a restaurant where they had been together.

"It was frightening that it could happen that easily - the fact that really, this is the way people make transactions these days," said Becca Noyes.

Skimming consists of stealing the card information on your magnetic stripe off a credit, debit or ATM card. Skimming has been around for over a decade, but in recent years, skimming has gotten more difficult to detect and more high-tech, especially around ATMs.

Chicago Police Sergeant John Lucki specializes in financial crimes.

He says there are places on ATMs where skimmers can place devices to get your card information and your PIN number.

"We've also seen cases where pinhole cameras have been utilized or jury rigged into the framing around an ATM machine - sometimes a brochure holder, sometimes a ceiling panel - anything that gives them a close clear view of your keypad operation," said Lucki.

Lucki says the information is collected on recorders or computers at the ATM, or the information can be transmitted wirelessly to the skimmers.

Once the skimmers have your information, they encode the magnetic stripe on a blank white card or even a gift card to use for purchases or cash withdrawals.

He urges holiday shoppers to be careful using their ATM cards.

"It's just a lot easier for criminals to take advantage of the stress of the holidays," said Lucki.

Banking consultant Susan Orr says that consumers often find skimming devices. Orr, who banks hire to find ways to prevent skimming, said that if an ATM doesn't look right or isn't working, you should report it immediately.

She also had a tip for ATM users: "Put your hand over it, so when you put your number in, they're not going to be able to see anything because the screen just shows Xs."

Orr says covering your code will not only prevent a camera from recording your PIN number, but anyone in-person 'shoulder surfing': watching you punch in your code.

Skimming can be hard to detect. Experts suggest a vigilant watch of your bank accounts.

In some cases, the banks will refund the loss, but cash taken with a debit card may not be refunded.

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