CEDAR CITY – Law enforcement officials say credit card skimming is a popular trend across the country and unfortunately it’s only getting worse.
According to a new 2016 study from consulting firm Javelin Strategy & Research, credit card fraud rose to record levels last year even while banks were issuing more “smart cards.”
Javelin’s study showed in 2016 thieves successfully netted 2 million more victims than the year before and stole $16 billion, nearly a billion-dollar year-to-year increase – all of it paid for by consumers in higher product and service prices.
But despite efforts by law enforcement to fight this crime wave, credit card fraud remains almost impossible to solve, Sgt. Dave Mitchell, detective with the Iron County Sheriff’s Office, said.
“The criminals are getting better at committing credit card fraud all the time,” Mitchell said. “They adapt to new technology and they find ways to work around any solution put into place to try and fight it. It’s one crime that is the most aggravating and frustrating for law enforcement to fight and it is one of the hardest from the investigation to the prosecution part of it.”
One of the most popular ways in the 21st century to commit credit card fraud has been to generate counterfeit cards via skimmers.
Most skimmers are attached to point of sale terminals such as gas pumps and ATMs in various ways. Once in place, the skimmer steals the information from the magnetic strip on the card. That information is then often downloaded through a wireless blue tooth to a nearby laptop.
Mini cameras are also often set up to record cardholders typing in their PIN numbers.
Watch video, courtesy of scam-detector.com, top of this report.
Skimmers can be used in almost any setting where there is a credit card scanner. Mitchell warns residents that even restaurant servers can take credit cards and skim them while swiping the card to pay for the customer’s meal.
“It’s not wise to ever let your credit card out of your sight,” Mitchell said. “Either pay for your meal with cash or pay for it as you leave the restaurant so that you are always with your card. It’s just not a smart move to give your card to someone you don’t know and let them walk away from you.”
Hackers can purchase skimmers at various internet sites for as little as $30 to $40 depending on how sophisticated.
Cedar City Detective Mike Bleak said there hasn’t been a huge amount of skimmers found in Iron County, but recently that number has been on the rise.
“We’ve been finding more skimmers lately than we have in the past,” Bleak said. “I’m not sure why that is. Primarily we find them at gas stations and they’re so well hidden you wouldn’t even know they’re there unless you know what you’re looking for.”
In response to record levels of credit card fraud in recent years, U.S. banks have been migrating away from magnetic strips to chip cards since 2015 but law enforcement says crooks are adapting.
Some “smart” cards pose a unique issue in that the microchip can have a radio transmitter called RFID, radio frequency identification, that is always switched on. By standing 6-inches to 10-feet away, criminals can use RFID readers or apps on cellphones to garner bank details via the app’s radio signal.
The information is then input into a machine that can be purchased for $300 to $400 to replicate the card.
This 21st century technology is another form of skimming but with these types of cards it amounts to nothing more than digital pickpocketing, Iron County Sheriff’s Lt. Del Schlosser said.
“The chip cards are not completely fraud-proof and come with their own unique problems,” Schlosser said. “It doesn’t matter what technology the banks and credit card companies come up with, the thieves will be right behind them.”
Schlosser said law enforcement has not yet experienced this technology in the local area but they know it’s a matter of time.
Report continues below.
Ways to avoid credit card fraud
With so many ways for thieves to defraud consumers, law enforcement officials suggest checking bank accounts daily and immediately reporting any questionable purchases.
“That is the best way to keep on top of your bank accounts and to know whether someone has committed fraud against you,” Bleak said. “Just check your account every day,”
One way to decrease the chance of skimming at the pumps and ATMS is for consumers to inspect the card readers comparing it to others nearby to see if they match. Police also recommend pulling on the machine to see if the skimmer will come off.
“If you pull on that card scanner and there’s a skimmer, it will come off,” Schlosser said. “Unless it’s inside the machine and then there’s no way to tell that from the outside, but the ones inside aren’t used like the new ones that just attach over the front of the machine.”
Avoid using the PIN number as much as possible and if necessary, cover the keypad while the number is punched in.
Cards can be protected from RFID skimmers by being wrapped in tin foil or kept in wallets that block RFID transmissions, Schlosser added.
Finally, keep your credit card and bank statement in a locked, safe place when you’re away from home.
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