Residents and visitors of Philadelphia are warned to be extra careful when using ATM machines as investigators discovered skimming devices intended to steal a person’s debit card data installed on 20 ATM machines around the city this year alone.
The latest discovery was made just last week, on September 15 on a cash machine located next to a bank along Rhawn Street in Philadelphia's Fox Chase section. That same day, a second device was found at a branch on Moreland Road in Willow Grove, Montgomery County.
Capt. Roland Lee, commanding officer of Philadelphia Police's Major Crimes unit, said investigators are working closely to identify two men believed to be behind those thefts.
Lee said that photos of the two men were were captured on surveillance video. They are also suspected to be connected to other skimming cases across the city and towns in Montgomery and Bucks counties.
The skimmers those thieves used had two pieces: a magnetic stripe and chip reader to record the card number; and a pinhole camera used to capture a person's pin number as they enter it.
It is not clear how much money the thieves were able to steal from affected card holders.
What makes them tricky is that the said devices are hard to see because they are so small and can easily be made to look to blend with the machine. The camera and its microchip meant to record a person’s pin number as he enters it are just about the size of a quarter. Lee explained that unsuspecting card holders may simply think that such small devices are part of the regular equipment. He added:"It'll be the same color, everything. You'll never know the difference."
The batteries of the skimmers only last for about a day long, and installer usually comes back to retrieve it.
What makes the scam dangerous is that with a card holder’s electronic card number and pin having been skimmed, the card can then be reprinted and used to make fraudulent purchases.
Lee said skimmers do not even employ advanced technology for their vicious scam. They can pull off their illegal stunt with building the devices merely with materials bought online or those easily available at electronics stores. He added: “A person who has little electronic or mechanical skill can put it together.”
The illegal, fraudulent activity is hugely profitable says an expert.
Doug Johnson from the American Bankers Association said skimming can give thieves as much as $60,000 in illegal “profits”— can easily exceed what they can get from a bank robbery.
It's not clear how many people from Philadelphia or even those visiting the city may have had their financial information stolen or compromised in fraud schemes connected to the 20 recovered devices. Lee said there have been others found in the suburbs. Authorities are certain that sadly there are devices that were successfully used and retrieved by thieves.
Experts also give some useful tips to protecting people’s cards, their information and of course, money from the dangers of ATM skimming. Top of which, card holders must always check the ATM machine before starting any transaction and be on the look out for any suspicious thing.
Lee also suggests running one’s hand around the card reader and pin pad, tugging at the hardware. If something is loose, a card holder should consider avoiding using that ATM.
A card holder should also always cover the pin pad with one’s hand when entering the number.
Pin number should always be kept private so as to derail any attempts to reuse one’s card information.
Go into the bank to make a withdrawal whenever possible.
While this may not always be a viable option in terms of time and convenience, but if the bank is open, one may want to go to the teller instead for transactions like withdrawals to keep one’s card information safe.