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Residents warned of ATM 'skimming' schemes

By Jason A. Smith

jsmith@henryherald.com

Authorities said if residents are not extra careful when they get money out of a bank, they could risk becoming victims of identity theft.

Henry County Police are urging the public to exercise vigilance at automatic teller machines (ATM), in light of an ongoing investigation into credit-card "skimming." The practice involves the unlawful taking of personal information electronically, via credit and debit cards, according to Police Detective Tim Yancey.

"ATM skimming devices have been around for several years now," he said. "It's just that they've become more of a problem in the past four years. As people become more technology-savvy, ATMs are being placed out into the world, and parts of them are being stolen. You can go on the Internet, and you can be surprised with what you would find -- ATM parts and things of that nature."

The process of skimming, Yancey said, enables culprits to collect account information from victims quickly, thereby victimizing them before they even know it.

"All it requires is a reader that reads the magnetic strip that's on your card, and a way to store it -- some type of memory," said the detective. "You can get the components off the Internet, and those types of devices are used on a lot of different things. It seems like it would be a controlled device, but if you think about all the different places you can use a credit card, or at an ATM .... the components are more readily available than a person thinks they are."

Yancey said another component of the skimming equation centers on a thief's ability to obtain a pin number from a victim. "Usually, how that is done is in one of two ways," he said. "One is they will place a camera hidden somewhere, where they can see the keypad."

The second manner in which pin numbers are stolen is by fitting a cover over a keypad, which stores pin-number data into memory as it is entered, according to Yancey.

Henry Police began investigating a skimming case Oct. 17, at the SunTrust Bank located at 4986 North Henry Blvd., in Stockbridge, said Henry County Police Maj. Jason Bolton.

"The ... subjects placed a credit card skimming device on the ... ATM," Bolton said in the days following the incident. Bolton, on Monday, said the SunTrust case marks the first skimming incident his department has investigated "in a while." Nevertheless, he said ATM customers should be "very observant" when using the machines.

"The customer in this recent incident noticed that her card seemed to go deeper than usual into the ATM, and when she removed the card, the skimmer came out with it," he said. "If something looks suspicious, they should notify bank personnel. If it's after hours, they should notify police.

"Lightly raking one's fingers across the machine is a good way, to ensure that there aren't any foreign components attached," Bolton continued. "When inserting and removing one's card, it's not a bad idea to slightly bend or twist the card. Sometimes this can help remove a skimming device, if there is one."

To date, the individuals responsible for skimming information from cards at the SunTrust Bank have not been located or identified, said Yancey. Police were able to detect the crime quickly, he said.

"It was caught before the [suspects] were able to retrieve the information," the detective said.

Yancey acknowledged that much of the law-enforcement community has not kept pace with the technology that facilitates skimming. For now, he said, the best way for consumers to protect themselves against being victims, is to "pay attention to their surroundings."

"As you step up to that machine, one of the first things you should look for, before you put your card in, is that the card reader looks normal," he explained. "Is it loose? Is there tape around it? Does anything look abnormal about it? Then, look at the keypad, and do the same thing."

Yancey said bank customers should also look for any "oddity" on ATM devices they typically use to retrieve money. "There have been some devices that looked like a small speaker had been placed above the keypad," he said. "What the speaker had in it was a pinhole camera, so they could capture your pin numbers as you entered them."

Anyone with information on the identities or location of suspects in the SunTrust case, is asked to contact Police Detective Mike Reid at (770) 288-8263, by FAX at (770) 288-8237 or by e-mail at mreid@co.henry.ga.us.