Over the past several months, ATMs (Automated Teller Machines) in Los Altos and neighboring cities have been hit hard by clever criminals.
A Los Altos Arco gas station ATM was “skimmed,” and criminals made off with over $100,000. Over 150 people who used their ATM/debit cards at an Arco gas station in San Jose sufferred a similar fate. However, they lost approximately $195,000 in unauthorized withdrawals from their accounts.
Skimming occurs when a criminal inserts a small electronic device into the ATM. This device records the account information of the cardholder. A small camera may also be used to record the keystrokes of the cardholder as he/she enters their password. Every time the cardholder swipes the card, the skimming device transmits the information instantly to a nearby computer and/or the criminals come back and retrieve the skimming device and its information. Criminals then create cloned ATM cards and go on a withdrawal spree, emptying out the victim’s bank account.
A version of this crime occurred to over 200 customers of a Los Gatos Lunardi Supermarket. These cardholders had their debit card and personal information taken when criminals switched out an ATM reader and accessed the card holder’s account information.
Please read the following informational power point presentation on How criminals make money from ATM thefts. This was sent to me by Officer Paco Vergara who is in the Crime Prevention/Analysis Unit of the Los Altos Police Department.
Lastly, NBC’s Today Show offers the following tips on how to keep ATM thieves away from your money:
- Cover your hand whenever you punch in your PIN; this will reduce the chance of scammers recording your PIN via a hidden camera.
- If you’re using an ATM in usually secured areas — such as in a bank kiosk after hours — check the door before inserting your debit card into the slot to open the door. If your card usually must be used to unlock the door, but you notice it is unlocked (without having to use the card), it could indicate that the door was rigged to remain open — and have a skimming device collect your card info.
- If your debit card can also be used as a credit card — it will have a Visa or MasterCard logo — ask your bank to issue you a “debit only” card. This helps block the risk of fraudulent online credit transactions if your card information is skimmed.
- Request your bank to set a per—day ATM withdrawal limit on your account. Unless you make this specific request, most banks have per-transaction of, say, $200. Skimming scammers easily avert that by making several consecutive withdrawals.
- Keep close tabs on your day—to—day account activity, and immediately report any fraudulent or suspicious withdrawals. Some banks require that customers report missing money within 60 days from its occurrence or discovery in order to have it reimbursed.