Crime

Card skimmer discovered at Bellingham gas station a reminder to remain vigilant

How to spot a skimmer at a gas pump or ATM

Eric Vitale, fraud investigation specialist with the San Luis Obispo Police Department, demonstrates how to spot a card skimmer on an ATM, gas pump or other card reader. He also offers advice for keeping your PIN and card information safe.
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Eric Vitale, fraud investigation specialist with the San Luis Obispo Police Department, demonstrates how to spot a card skimmer on an ATM, gas pump or other card reader. He also offers advice for keeping your PIN and card information safe.

It's not like gas prices aren't already high enough. Somebody tried to take even more from those filling up at one Bellingham gas station, according to the Bellingham Police.

An employee at Starvin Sam's Mini Mart on Guide Meridian at West North Street noticed what appeared to be a card skimmer on one of the convenience store's gas pumps and called police.

"Looks like it was discovered fairly early, so hopefully victims are limited," Bellingham Lt. Danette Beckley said. "Detectives are working on (identifying) possible victims and are checking video for suspect info."

The investigation remains active, Beckley said, but it's probably a good time to review what to look for to help avoid becoming a victim when you use a gas pump or ATM machine.

Skimmers come in different shapes and sizes and can be installed on or inside pumps at many gas stations and ATM machines.

According to an article on Forbes.com, even cards with an EMV-chip can be victimized when you swipe the magnetic stripe, though many ATM machines in the U.S. now read the chip, making skimming less rampant. The article offered these tips for reducing the chances your card gets skimmed:

Pull on the card reader first: Scammers create devices designed to look like the actual machine. Before inserting your card, look for anything that seems out of the ordinary, such as tape, glue marks or machine scratches, and pull on the card reader to see if it seems loose. A valid card reader should be well secured and not look like it has had any repairs made.

Examine the keypad: Scammers sometimes place a duplicate keyboard over the original in an attempt to get your PIN information. If you are typing on the keypad, and it feels like the keys are spongy or about to fall off, there's a chance a scammer is recording your keystrokes via a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi signal. If you doubt the integrity of the keyboard, stop using it immediately. You also can use your phone to check for Bluetooth or Wi-Fi signals in the area.

Look for cracks in the receipt slot: Card thieves also have been known for placing a scanner in a receipt slot of ATMs. The machine may still function as normal, but the scanner is recording every detail of your transaction. If the ATM is cracked or looks like it's been tampered with, there's a chance it has.

Look for things that are out of place: Thieves don't need to break into the machine to steal your PIN number, and wireless cameras are so small, they can be hidden almost anywhere near a machine. Look above the screen and to the side of the screen or touch pad for any unusual boxes that could be in view of the keypad. Small holes near or on the machine also could be a place were cameras are hidden.

Watch for strangers: Although technology has made this scam virtually obsolete, an old throwback could be using somebody standing nearby to take and record your information. Make sure you have enough privacy to conduct your business.

High-traffic machines are best: Scams are more likely to take place at machines that see little traffic or aren't under constant supervision. Chose your transaction locations carefully.

An nbclosangeles.com story offered these additional tips to avoid skimmers at gas stations:

Avoid pumps at the end: They're often too far away from the attendant to have a clear view of the pump.

Don't use your debit card: If a skimmer gets your PIN number, your bank account could be exposed.

Look around: Assume a pump or card reader that looks like it has been tampered with probably has. Move on to another pump or station.

Always print a receipt: You need one to file a claim with the gas station's insurance company in case you pump bad fuel of if your card information gets skimmed.

If you notice suspicious charges on your account, contact your financial institution immediately.

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