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?Lebanese Loop' hits in Jonesboro

By Ed Brock

Jonesboro police are looking for a man and woman who they believe are using a device called a "Lebanese Loop" to rob ATM customers.

Around 8:10 p.m. on Aug. 26 a Jonesboro man went to use the ATM machine at the Suntrust Bank on Main Street in Jonesboro and discovered a sticker saying that the bank was having trouble with the machine, Jonesboro Police Detective Sgt. Rene Chamblee said. The sticker advised the man to enter his PIN number and then "Clear" three times if he had any trouble.

The victim inserted his card and followed the directions. A video tape from the machine shows the suspect in the case standing behind the victim, supposedly acting irate and saying that the machine had taken his card the day before.

But the suspect was actually watching the victim as he entered his PIN number all three times, Chamblee said.

"That gives him time to see every number (the victim) puts in," Chamblee said.

After the victim left, the suspect used the Lebanese Loop to pull the card from the machine, then went down the road to another bank where he used the card and PIN number to withdraw $500.

"He actually does a balance inquiry to see how much you have," Chamblee said. "He probably would have drained out the victim's account if the victim hadn't called in."

Chamblee said the suspect is a Hispanic male in his mid-20s with a mustache wearing a gold necklace and a baseball cap with a braid design along the rim. He was riding in a hunter green Jeep Grand Cherokee driven by a young Hispanic woman.

After taking the victim's card the suspect also used a scraper to remove his sticker and take it with him, too.

The Lebanese Loop is a simple device that uses a strip of plastic that is inserted into the ATM card reader to prevent the card from going into the machine and being processed.

"If you don't know to look for that you think it's part of the machine," Chamblee said.

The card goes in far enough that the victim cannot pull it out but the plastic loop allows the thief to retrieve the card. Chamblee said it's a scam that has affected the entire southeast United States.

Even the Guardian newspaper in Britain has posted reports about the device on their Web site. According to an article in the ABA Banking Journal, the Lebanese Loop is a variation of a practice called "skimming."

High-tech versions of skimming involve using a device of some kind that records the magnetic strip on a debit card. The device can be used by waiters at a restaurant or attached to an ATM or even a gas pump, according to the article.

The technique of reading the PIN number while the victim is putting it into the machine is called "shoulder surfing." According to the article, Lebanese Loops can be purchased on the Internet. A "Heads Up Alert" on the devices says they get their name from the fact that they have been used by Lebanese suspects.

Chamblee advises ATM customers not to use the machine if they see any posted instructions telling them to do something other than what they would ordinarily do.

A bank official also advised clients not to use the ATM machine if they see any suspicious activity occurring around it. Customers should make sure the ATM is in a well-lit place and should take care to shield their PIN numbers from other people.

Anyone with information on the case is asked to call Chamblee at (770) 478-7407. Chamblee said she is also hoping to hear from other people who may have been victims of the scam.