Investigators in Philadelphia say they found skimming devices designed to steal a person's debit card data installed on 20 ATM machines around the city this year.
The most recent discovery was made Sept. 15 on a cash machine attached to a bank along Rhawn Street in Philadelphia's Fox Chase section. A second device was found at a branch on Moreland Road in Willow Grove, Montgomery County the same day.
Capt. Roland Lee, commanding officer of Philadelphia Police's Major Crimes unit, said detectives are working to identify two men believed to be involved in those thefts.
The men, whose photos were captured on surveillance video, may be connected to other skimming cases across the city and towns in Montgomery and Bucks counties, Lee said.
The skimmers they used had two pieces: a magnetic stripe and chip reader to record the card number; and a pinhole camera used to capture a person's pin number as they enter it.
The devices are hard to see. The camera and its microchip are about the size of a quarter.
"To a person not suspecting, this looks like [its] part of the regular equipment," Lee said. "It'll be the same color, everything. You'll never know the difference."
Batteries keep the skimmers working for about a day before the installer comes back to retrieve it.
With both your electronic card number and pin, the card can then be reprinted and used to make fraudulent purchases, Lee said.
Lee said technology employed in the skimmers is not advanced. The devices can be built with materials purchased online or at a electronics store.
"A person who has a little electronic or mechanical skill can put it together," he said.
Doug Johnson with the American Bankers Association said skimming can net thieves as much as $60,000 — far more than a bank robbery.
It's not clear how many people may have had their financial information stolen in fraud schemes connected to the 20 recovered devices. Lee said there have been others found in the suburbs.
And surely there are devices that were successfully used and retrieved by thieves.
So how can you protect yourself?
- Check the ATM before a transaction. Lee suggests running your hand around the card reader and pin pad, tugging at the hardware. If something is loose, you may want to avoid using that ATM. - Cover the pin pad with your hand when entering the number. Keeping your pin number private can derail any attempts to reuse your card information. - Go into the bank to make a withdrawal. This isn't always a viable option, but if the bank is open, you may want to pay the teller a visit to keep your card information safe.