Skimming may take a layer out of your bank account

Monday, April 19, 2004

Imagine running by the ATM to get a quick $20 for spending money only to find that your checking account has been drained. Or consider getting a notice from the bank that your account is overdrawn when you know you just made a deposit and haven't written any checks on it.

In such instances, it's possible you've been the victim of ATM fraud. That convenient way to access some cash can also be a convenience for thieves.

Banks and local police say ATM fraud has not happened locally but that it is always a good idea to be cautious.

"If someone accesses a machine it's because a customer gave them a card or a PIN [Personal Identification Number]," said Charlotte Unterreimer, security officer for Capaha Bank in Cape Girardeau. "They can't get it without that information."

However, thieves have proven they can.

One method is called a "skimmer." A team of organized criminals installs an attachment on the ATM disguised to look like normal ATM equipment. It is normally mounted to the front of the card slot that reads the ATM card number and transmits it to the criminals sitting in a nearby car. A wireless camera disguised to look like a leaflet holder is mounted in a position to record PIN entries. The thieves copy the cards and use PINs to clean out bank accounts in a short time directly from the ATM.

Unterreimer said she has heard of skimmers, but hasn't seen any in use locally. Capaha Bank monitors its ATMs closely, she said.

Spokesmen for US Bank, both locally and at corporate headquarters, say they've heard of skimmers, but have not had any experience with them.

Sgt. Rick Schmidt of the Cape Girardeau Police Department said he learned about skimmers during some training he took recently. He said the police department has received no reports of any such activity to his knowledge.

Another ATM scam is known as the "Lebanese Loop." A customer puts in his ATM card and a message appears on the screen saying the machine is out of order.

A stranger approaches and tells the customer this happened to him the other day and advises the customer to key in his PIN and then press cancel twice. Nothing happens and the customer believes the machine has swallowed his card.

What happened is that the "helpful stranger" had inserted a plastic envelope into the hole where the card fits. The ATM cannot read the card and sends the out of order message. The PIN is recorded, the card is left in the machine, then it is "looped" out and the helpful stranger begins helping himself to the customer's money.

Schmidt said it's not likely that these scams would be carried off locally. "The ATMs I'm aware of, if you touch them an alarm goes off," he said.

Security departments say they are doing their best to monitor ATMs at local banks, regardless.

"So far, so good," Unterreimer said.

335-6611, extension 160

Always shield your PIN (Personal Identification Number). Use your body to block anyone's view of the keypad at an ATM, a gas pump or inside a store.

Do not write your PIN on your ATM card.

Don't use an ATM if people are standing around it. Ask them to move. If they refuse, go somewhere else.

Don't use an ATM that appears to be out of the ordinary. Don't use machines that have instructions asking you to do things that don't seem right, such as entering your PIN three times. Report these immediately to the bank or the police.

Use the same ATM for almost all of your transactions to better recognize when something is different about the machine. Be wary of any changes you see on its outside.

Never take advice from "helpful" strangers about how to get your card back if the machine keeps it.

If you lose your card and someone calls claiming to be from the police or bank to advise you they've recovered it, do not give your PIN if he asks for it "for verification purposes."

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