Crime

Card skimming scrooge strikes another Bellingham gas station, police say

How to spot a skimmer at a gas pump or ATM

Eric Vitale, fraud investigation specialist with the San Luis Obispo, Calif., 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, Calif., 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

Another card skimmer was located by Bellingham police on a gas pump at an Bellingham convenience station — this one on the Starvin Sam’s 76 located in the 200 block of 36th Street near the Sehome Haggens.

Police were alerted to a pump that appeared to be tampered with on Dec. 12, according to the Bellingham Police log.

“A vigilant gas station attendant noted the broken seal on the pump and checked it,” Lt. Claudia Murphy told The Bellingham Herald in an email Friday. “There was a skimming device located and removed.

“At this point we have no idea how many people may have been affected as we don’t know exactly when it was placed or if the suspects were able to download any info they got off the skimmer. Looking for video footage and then to see what is on the device.”

After a handful of card skimmers were found last spring in Bellingham and an arrest was made in June, Murphy said police haven’t investigated many since. Murphy said she could find only one card skimming investigation in September and October, and that was assisting Ferndale police with an investigation they were conducting.

If you suspect you’ve been the victim of a card skim, the Bellingham Police Department asks you to call dispatch, at 360-676-6911, or the station officer, at 360-778-8800, to make an initial report.

How to spot a card skimmer

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: 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.

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 to place a scanner in the receipt slot of ATMs. The machine may still function as normal, but the scanner is recording every detail. 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 touchpad for any unusual boxes that could be in view of the keypad.

Watch for strangers: 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 keep an eye on them.

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 or if your card information gets skimmed.

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

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.

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