ATM users warned about credit card skimmers

By Nesa Nourmohammadi
The Gazette
Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cases of a hard-to-detect form of credit card fraud are showing up more frequently in the Washington region, police say, including a recent case in Rockville, where a skimming device that reads encrypted credit card data was found in a Wachovia bank branch ATM.

A credit card skimmer is a device that uses a card scanner and camera to capture credit card information. The skimmer is placed over the card slot reader and reads the magnetic swipe, while a hidden miniature camera in the device works in tandem to record the personal identification number.

Once the confidential information is collected, thieves are free to use it, police say. In most cases, the victim's account information and PIN "are put onto a clone card," said Detective Brandon Mengedoht of the Montgomery County Police Department's checks and fraud division.

Mengedoht described the skimmer found at the Congressional Plaza Wachovia as "homemade and not very advanced." The unit had a magnetic card reader and a spy camera inserted in it.

The skimmer was discovered by a customer using the Wachovia ATM at Congressional Plaza on April 3.

"He noticed something was askew and pulled on" the device, Rockville Police Chief Terence N. Treschuk said. "He then proceeded to call police."

The investigation has been forwarded to the county police checks and fraud division. Treschuk said his department does not handle skimming cases often, "but it's something that's been around for a long time."

Despite being relatively unknown to the general public, skimmers are not difficult to detect, Mengedoht said.

"The skimming attachment protrudes from the card slot," he said. "If you go up to where the slot is, you can tell something is off. You can certainly feel around before you put your card in."

The card-reading attachment often is held together with double-sided tape, making it easy to remove, Mengedoht said.

Bank customers who see a skimmer should remove it from the machine and turn it in to a bank employee, he said. They should not stand by and wait, as thieves sometimes lurk near the ATM to monitor activity.

Rockville police Sgt. J.P. Cowell estimates his department has handled "maybe one or two" cases involving ATM skimmers before the one this month.

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