ATLANTA, GA -- 11 Alive's Center for Investigative Action got behind the scenes with the Secret Service, to shine light on a huge problem that defrauds consumers every day. They showed us a first hand look at gadgets that thieves use to steal your credit card information. It's called skimming.
"This just happened to me,"said Jennifer Brennan, of Cobb County, after responding to our post. Krysti Seay, a former bank employee, emailed too."We always had people in a panic coming into the bank,"she said." Everything in my bank account plus more was gone," Nick Ferrell told us, saying he believed his card information was skimmed somewhere in Clayton County.
It's a familiar story for Atlanta's Secret Service."There's not a month goes by that we don't get some form of notification from law enforcement or retailers," said investigator Marc Debrody, assistant to the Special Agent in Charge of Atlanta's Secret Service.
They are constantly notified about the devices that he showed us, spread out on a table. They are called skimmers. The Secret Service seized the gadgets from actual crimes committed in the Atlanta area. They shared pocket skimmers used by crooked wait staff. "They surreptitiously take your card, slide it, capture the data in this device." Debrody picked up a phone face plate for a card reader for an ATM - behind it, a computer chip that captured the card's information. "Anywhere from a hundred to thousands of cards can be captured by anyone of these devices," Debrody pointed out. He also showed us where the electronic thieves hide cameras."What we have here is a face plate overlay, it would go above the ATM keypad," Debrody said. It looked just like part of the ATM equipment, with vent holes, and behind one of those holes was a camera to capture your PIN. All of the information, captured by the skimmers, is downloaded into a computer and then another machine, that is readily available on the internet, it used to copy the information onto blank cards.
Atlanta's Secret Service recently investigated a case that copied 4,700 cards. The thieves were caught and pleaded guilty. Their sentencing is coming up April 25th in U.S. Federal Court in the Northern District of Georgia. Industry analyst, Nilson Report, estimated the United States accounts for about 47 percent of the card fraud in the world. Total U.S. fraud to both merchants and consumers is believed to have been about $5.3 billion in 2012. An unknown amount of that is from card skimming. "We see a wide variety of sophistication in the devices that are used," Debrody told us.Like the blue tooth enabled card skimmer that was found attached to a local gas pump. It let the thieves remotely access the data up to 20 yards away. "With cellular technology, they could be anywhere in the world," he said.
Since becoming victims of skimming, both Brennan and Ferrell are much more guarded."I've been very particular on the ATMs I use," Ferrell told us. He now tugs at the card reader to make sure it's firmly attached and not a dummy reader added by crooks. "You just assume when you're swiping at retailer or at an establishment, that their swiper is fine and that nothing is going on with it," Brennan added.
The Secret Service says merchants have a responsibility duty to keep their eyes open too."We came in on a Monday morning and it looked like somebody had put a skimmer on our device," Krysti Seay told us. "They taught us to look for any kind of adhesive on the ATMs. They taught us to look for adhesive where maybe cameras were." "A lot of people will probably think I'm crazy but I'll go up and shake the card reader to make sure it's firmly stuck there and not something that's been placed after," Farrell said.
It sounds unusual but everyone else should do the same. When you are at the pump or the ATM shake the device to make sure the card reader isn't loose. Experts also recommend you you check your account balances regularly to check for problems.
Related: Skimming: How To Protect Yourself