As Westchester County’s chief law enforcement officer, I want to share with you my concern about an emerging trend here in our county and across the country known as “skimming.” This form of electronic theft involves the planting of illegal card reading devices and hidden cameras in and around ATMs to capture account information and PINs from unsuspecting customers. Bank personnel and members of law enforcement are carefully monitoring this crime trend to identify and arrest offenders and protect individuals’ finances. Particularly in this busy holiday shopping season, it is also important to raise public awareness of this issue.
Skimming is one of the new techniques criminals have developed to cash in on or steal your personal financial information. A specialized law enforcement task force, including members of my office, the Westchester County Police and nearly a dozen local police departments across our county, is working alongside the U.S. Secret Service to investigate instances where skimming has occurred. In the last 14 months, eight individuals in Westchester have been arrested on charges related to illegal skimming with devices discovered at banks in Yorktown Heights, Yonkers, Bronxville, Greenburgh, Tarrytown and Rye Brook.
The skimming method used by thieves at ATMs involves placing a skimmer, an illegal card-reading device that looks like the authentic reader, on top of an actual card-reading slot at an ATM. In addition, thieves may place a concealed, pinhole-sized camera nearby, in order to record the cardholder’s PIN. In stores and restaurants, skimming devices have also been used by dishonest employees to capture credit card account information when they swipe customers’ credit cards to pay for a bill. When skimming devices are used, customers usually go about their business, unaware that they have provided information to thieves. The thieves retrieve the recorded information and create counterfeit cards. Using the stolen account and PIN information, the thieves can “cash out” an account or fraudulently charge purchases to the credit card.
Some experts believe that skimming is costing banks across the country millions of dollars in losses. For victims, knowing that thieves have gained access to their personal financial information is very unsettling. Skimming devices may be difficult to detect, but I urge you to keep these important safety measures in mind when you are using your credit, debit or ATM card:
- Check for any sign of tampering with the slot where you insert your card;
- Look at the area above and around the ATM for any sign of a concealed camera;
- As you punch in your PIN, use your hand to cover the keypad so that a hidden camera is unable to capture it;
- Never share your PIN or allow someone to punch in your PIN for you;
- Check your bank and credit card statements frequently and report any suspicious charges or activity to your financial institution immediately;
- Feel free to ask personnel at the bank branch, stores and restaurants that you patronize what steps they are taking to protect their customers against skimming.
I hope you find this advice helpful in safeguarding your financial information and accounts. I wish you and your family a safe and healthy holiday season and a happy new year.
For more information on the work of the District Attorney’s Office, please visit our website at www.westchesterda.net.