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Watchdog: Hi-tech criminals have new trick to steal your credit, debit card info

By Victoria Advocate
Aug. 3, 2010 at 3:03 a.m.


Have a question for 'Watchdog'?To submit questions, e-mail watchdog@vicad.com, post them to the "Watchdog" blog or call Advocate Public Service Editor Gabe Semenza at 361-580-6519. No topic is off-limits.

Thanks to sophisticated criminals, you have another reason to fear getting ripped off at the pump.

In recent months, banks across the country reported a surge in credit card skimming, a crime that entails the theft of your credit and debit card information.

Criminals increasingly used hi-tech devices to electronically "skim" data from your cards when used at gas pumps and ATMs, according to Consumer Reports.

While police report no such cases so far in Victoria, officers urge you to remain aware if you visit bigger cities such as San Antonio and Houston. They also say the crime could spread here.

Skimming credit and debit card information is not a new crime. Unscrupulous retailers and restaurant workers have for decades stolen and used card information.

New-aged crooks, though, have advanced technology at their disposal.

Thieves these days install electronic devices, pinhole cameras or both at gas pumps and ATMs. The thieves either affix the data collection device over the card slot or nearby, but always to look like it's a native component of the machine.

Newer ATMs now display a photo of what the slot and keypad are supposed to look like so you can identify foreign devices.

Crooks can even use wireless Bluetooth devices to collect your information while they park nearby, according to Consumer Reports.

"I don't know of any reports of that here, but I'm not saying that it is not happening here," Victoria Police Sgt. Felix Appelt said. "It's definitely a more hi-tech crime."

In Arizona, skimming reports became so widespread the governor ordered state inspectors to inspect and remove the devices from gas pumps. A rash of such crimes was also reported in Utah and Colorado.

To avoid becoming a victim of credit or debit card skimming, Appelt suggests you:

Inspect gas pumps and ATMs for signs of illegal devices, and compare them to a nearby machine. Signs of foul play might include loose screws, an askew card reader and other oddities.

Look for cameras mounted in strange places. A small camera behind you in an ATM booth, for example, can be cause for concern.

Look for tape, strings, loose screws or other signs criminals might have tampered with the machines. Oftentimes, criminals record the inputting of your PIN and rig card readers to keep your card.

"If the ATM holds your card, contact the bank right away," Appelt said.

Of course, as Consumer Reports suggests and Dave Ramsey preaches, you can always choose to use cash instead of plastic.

Gabe Semenza is the public service editor for the Advocate. Comment on this story at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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