BewareBy NIKKI ROWELL,
Card skimming at ATMs and gas pumps increasing on N’side.
Simple tasks like pumping gas and withdrawing money from an ATM now pose a risk, as cases of credit and debit card skimming continue to rise on the Northside.
Jackson, Madison and Ridgeland Police Departments have all had cases involving card skimmers in the last few years, which follows the national trend.
“We had never heard of this several years ago. It’s just become a pretty common thing unfortunately,” said Chuck Harrison, Madison Police Department investigator.
Ridgeland Police Chief John Neal said the Ridgeland Police Department has had three cases in the past year where they discovered a card skimmer on a device.
The reported incidents in Ridgeland have all been from card skimming devices placed at gas pumps.
As of yet, the department has not received any reports from financial institutions.
“As a result of a suspected skimming device, we have had seven cases of fraudulent use of credit card numbers, where a card number was obtained by a skimming device and card number subsequently used outside of our jurisdiction,” Neal said.
While the department has not necessarily seen an increase in the number of card skimming cases, Neal said the number of occurrences does seem to be steady.
“We will go months without it being an issue then have several reports within a couple of weeks’ time,” Neal said. “It is an indication to us that a traveling group of criminals comes through our jurisdiction, sets up a skimming device for a couple of days, obtains the information from scanned cards, then leaves the area.”
Harrison also said the culprits are typically persons outside of the state of Mississippi who travel through several states leaving behind card skimming devices in their wake.
“One or two individuals from other states travel to install these,” Harrison said. “They’re really fast. In two minutes or less they can install these, and it’s very hard to know how long one has been in place because you don’t know a starting point.”
It is also hard for law enforcement to detect or know who put it there.
“Some have to be retrieved and some transfer information via Bluetooth,” Harrison said. “Some have cell phone sim card that sends the information via email and they never have to come back to get the device.”
While card skimming devices are difficult to detect, Harrison and Neal both offered some advice to help protect yourself when at the gas pump or ATM.
“Go inside to pay instead of at the pump. The way the pumps are designed, the new ones are pretty secure. Try not to use older style gas pumps,” Harrison said.
He also advised if you pay at the pump to run your card as credit instead of debit, that way they do not have access to your PIN.
“Majority of the time, these devices are put on pumps outside the view of the store clerk,” Neal said. “If you fuel up with a pay at the pump station, use the pump nearest the front doors and use the pump which is on the building side. Attempt to avoid the outside pumps.”
Neal suggested firmly wiggling the card insert to check to see if it is removable or if the secured access door has been compromised.
“Before inserting your card, check to make sure the brightly colored security tape is affixed across the door panel opening,” Neal said. “This security tape is placed on there by an authorized person and indicates the door has not been compromised. If the tape seal is broken, use another pump or station and report it to the store clerk.”
ATM card skimming devices are particularly difficult to detect, according to Harrison. Typically, people discover the devices when their card does not go in and out as smoothly as it should. This could be an indication that the machine has been compromised.
“There is no failsafe way to tell people to watch out for them,” Harrison said.
If you do discover a card skimming device at the bank or gas station, Harrison said to immediately tell someone on location so that they may put up an out of order sign on the machine so no one else uses it, and then the store should contact local law enforcement to check it out.
Neal encourages residents to check with their financial institution to determine what happens if a card is compromised.
If your information is obtained through illegal means and money is taken from your account, it could be weeks for an internal investigation to be completed and your money to be reimbursed. Meanwhile, some companies might immediately replace fraudulent charges.
“Chipped cards are much harder to compromise but the technology used by criminals will eventually lead to a way for this information to be obtained,” Neal said. “Nothing is 100 percent safe, but if at all possible, the use of cash is always a great alternative to becoming a victim of this type of identity theft.”