Sheriff’s office says beware of card skimmer fraud


courtesy of Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office • A masked scammer either attaching or removing a card skimmer on an ATM in Shoreview, as recently captured by the automatic teller machine’s security camera.

Two men, in from out of state, are on the run from the Burnsville police. They hole up in a Vadnais Heights hotel room, where they’ve just received a shipment of 250 blank bank cards, which they’ll use to make fraudulent cards.

The scammers have been bouncing around cities — it’s 2015. When local law enforcement investigates them, they hit the road. 

Ramsey County sheriff’s deputies catch wind of the scammers in Vadnais Heights and link up with Burnsville police. The investigators track the scammers using licence plate numbers and trace shipments to their hotel room. 

While in the process of loading stolen information onto the fake cards, before the scammers can complete their swindle and move onto the next town, law enforcement busts in and arrests them. 

“They probably purchased the information in a data breach,” said Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Randy Gustafson, of the two men who the sheriff’s office arrested back in 2015.

 

At the pump

Theft of financial information, like bank and credit card numbers, is a threat that has grown into a priority for law enforcement. But such theft is usually not as dramatic as a data breach. 

A subtle, more prevalent way in which scammers steal card data is through card skimmers. 

“Info scamming happens in many different ways,” said Gustafson. “But [card] skimmers are hot right now.” A single card skimmer can provide a scammer with the financial information of hundreds of people. 

A skimmer, which can easily be purchased online, is a device that is attached to where customers swipe their card at gas stations, restaurants, stores or ATMs — really, anywhere a card is swiped. 

Primary skimmer targets are gas stations, especially the pumps furthest away from the view of the cashier, Gustafson said. Scammers open up the pump where the card slot is and apply a skimmer on the inside.

“Some can be installed in thirty seconds to a minute,” said Gustafson.

A way to avoid skimmers is through security tape on the pump. If security tape has been tampered with, it will read “void.”

Eagan police recently created a program called Skim Stop. Local police work with local businesses to help protect people’s information and raise awareness through recognizable Skim Stop stickers on gas pumps. 

Inver Grove Heights instituted the program in October. Gustafson said Ramsey County is considering the program, but, either way, sheriff’s deputies have been working to increase awareness. 

 

Another target: ATMs

Another big target for skimmer scammers are ATMs. The sheriff’s office recently released images of people using skimmers multiple times at the County Credit Union in Shoreview. ATMs have cameras, which captured the images of a few of the scammers. But at least one scammer wore a mask.

Law enforcement tracks scammers by following their purchases. If a scammer buys gift cards or items online, police will track the shipments. If scammers use cards in person at stores or restaurants, investigators use surveillance video to get a description. 

Many credit card information theft situations leave people with little defense. A waiter at a restaurant, after receiving a customer’s credit card to pay the bill, can easily copy information or slide the credit card through a skimmer without anyone noticing. 

“Really, the key is to keep your eye on your accounts,” said Gustafson. “Check them regularly, depending on how frequently you use the cards.”

If any fraudulent activity is detected, Gustafson said to immediately contact that financial institution. If money is lost, call 911 and make a report. 

As skimmer awareness grows, scammers, like the two who were caught in the Vadnais Heights hotel room, will leave. 

“It comes and goes,” said Gustafson of how often such crimes occur. “They’ll hit an area for a while. As awareness goes up, as people pay attention, they go to the next area.”


 

– Solomon Gustavo can be reached at sgustavo@lillienews.com or 651-748-7815.

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