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ATM skimming scams on the rise

If you’ve ever used a cash machine, here’s something you should be aware of. The Justice Department has disrupted one of the largest debit and credit card skimming rings on the West Coast.

According to the court filing in U.S. District Court  of Western District of Washington in Seattle, the criminals put phony card swipers on ATM machines  in order to capture account information. Exhibits of evidence seized show both sophisticated and crude devices used in the skimming operations. 

U.S. Attorney for Western Washington, Jenny Durkan, says the thieves also retrieved PIN numbers by placing tiny spy cameras on the machines.

"This ring used Romanian nationals who entered the country illegally and drained the bank accounts of hundreds of thousands of dollars. By some estimates, skimming is a $1 billion industry annually in America," Durkan said.

Durkan knows first hand how easy it is to be scammed.  It happened to her. She was on her way out of town.  She stopped at her bank's ATM to get some cash.

"When I entered the bank vestibule the machine that would normally take your card to let you in was gone. I thought it was strange, but I was in a hurry and went in anyway." Durkan said.

She got her cash and was on her way, only to find out later her account information had been stolen.

In order to protect yourself, law enforcement recommends you:

  • Cover the key pad when you type in your PIN
  • Jiggle the card swiper to see if something’s been added
  • Monitor your accounts for unusual activity           

According to the U.S. Secret Service, ATM and gas pump skimming is a growing industry.  A recent investigation, 2011 Data Breach Investigations Report, conducted by the Secret Service with Verizon and the Dutch High Tech Crime Unit, shows 10% of all compromised data in 2010 was linked to physical tampering with machines.  That's up from just 1% in 2009.

Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.
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