Like most electronic gadgets these days, ATM skimmers are getting smaller and thinner, with extended battery life. Here’s a look at several miniaturized fraud devices that were pulled from compromised cash machines at various ATMs in Europe so far this year.
According to a new report from the European ATM Security Team (EAST), a novel form of mini-skimmer was reported by one country. Pictured below is a device designed to capture the data stored on an ATM card’s magnetic stripe as the card is inserted into the machine. While most card skimmers are made to sit directly on top of the existing card slot, these newer mini-skimmers fit snugly inside the card reader throat, obscuring most of the device. This card skimmer was made to fit inside certain kinds of cash machines made by NCR.
A mini-skimmer designed to slip inside of an NCR ATM’s card acceptance slot. Image: EAST.
“New versions of insert skimmers (skimmers placed inside the card reader throat) are getting harder to detect,” the EAST report concludes.
The miniaturized insert skimmer above was used in tandem with a tiny spy camera to record each customer’s PIN. The image on the left shows the hidden camera situated just to the left of the large square battery; the photo on the right shows the false ATM fascia that obscures the hidden camera as it was found attached to the compromised ATM (notice the tiny pinhole at the top left edge of the device).
The hidden camera used in tandem with the insert skimmer. Source: EAST.
EAST notes that the same country which reported discovering the skimmer devices above also found an ATM that was compromised by a new type of translucent insert skimmer, pictured below.
A translucent mini-skimmer made to sit (mostly) inside of an ATM’s card acceptance slot. Source: EAST.
Experts in the United States and Europe are tracking a marked increase in ATM skimmer scams. But let’s hope that at least some of that is the result of newbie crooks who fail as hard as the thief who tried to tamper with a Bank of America ATM earlier this week in Nashville.
Nashville police released a series of still photos (which I made into a slideshow, below) that show a man attaching a card skimming device to a local ATM, and then affixing a false panel above the PIN pad that includes a tiny video camera to record victims entering their PINs. According to Nashville NBC affiliate WSMV.com, this scammer’s scheme didn’t work as planned: The card skimmer overlay came off of the ATM in the hands of the first customer who tried to use it.
As you can see in the image montage, the first would-be victim arrives less than seven minutes after the thief installs the skimmer. The story doesn’t state this, but the customer who accidentally pulled the card skimmer off of the ATM actually drove off with the device. Interestingly, the fraudster returns a few minutes later to salvage what’s left of his kit (and perhaps his pride).
As lame as this ATM skimming attempt was, a few aspects of this crime are worth highlighting because they show up repeatedly in skimming attacks. One is that the vast majority of skimming devices are installed on Saturdays and Sundays, when the crooks know the banks will be closed for at least a day. As a result, you have a much higher chance of encountering a skimmer if you regularly use ATMs on a weekend.
Second, the thieves who install these fraud devices very often are lurking somewhere nearby — to better keep an eye on their investments. If you ever happen to discover a skimming device attached to an ATM, just remember that while walking or driving off with the thing might seem like a good idea at the time, the miscreant who put it there may be watching or following you as you depart the ATM area.
Once or twice a month I am interviewed by various news outlets about ATM skimming attacks, and I’m nearly always asked for recent figures on the incident and cost of these crimes. Those stats are hard to come by; I believe the last time the U.S. Secret Service released figures about the crime, it estimated that annual losses from ATM fraud totaled about $1 billion, but that was for 2008.
Today’s figures are almost certainly higher. On Tuesday, Verizon Enterprise Solutions released its annual data breach investigations report, a deep dive into more than 620 data breaches from the past year. Interestingly, this year’s report shows that of the Top 20 Threat Actions the company tracked across all of the breaches from 2012, physical tampering was the most frequent cause — present in more than 30 percent of all incidents detailed in the report.
“Physical tampering is our way of categorizing the installation of a skimming device, and that was the number one threat action out of everything we looked at,” said Wade Baker, managing principal of RISK intelligence at Verizon. “If you look at the last two [Verizon annual] reports, a large majority of the data set was the point-of-sale intrusions at small organizations such as retail establishments and restaurants, and those are actually a much smaller portion of our data set this time.”
Credit and debit card skimmers aren’t just for ATMs anymore. According to European anti-fraud experts, innovative skimming devices are turning up on everything from train ticket kiosks to parking meters and a host of other unattended payment terminals.
Recently, at least five countries reported skimming attacks against railway or transport ticket machines, according to the European ATM Security Team (EAST), a not-for-profit organization that collects data on skimming attacks. Two countries reported skimming attacks at parking machines, and three countries had skimming incidents involving point-of-sale terminals. EAST notes that Bluetooth devices increasingly are being used to transit stolen card and PIN data wirelessly.
Skimming devices found at train ticket kiosks in Europe. Source: EAST
The organization also is tracking a skimming trend reported by three countries (mainly in Latin America) in which thieves are fabricating fake ATM fascias and placing them over genuine ATMs, like the one pictured below. After entering their PIN, cardholders see an ‘out-of-order’ message. EAST said the fake fascias include working screens so that this type of message can be displayed. The card details are compromised by a skimming device hidden inside the fake fascia, and the PINs are captured via the built-in keypad, which overlays the real keypad underneath.
Many security-savvy readers of this blog have learned to be vigilant against ATM card skimmers and hidden devices that can record you entering your PIN at the cash machine. But experts say an increasing form of ATM fraud involves the use of simple devices capable of snatching cash and ATM cards from unsuspected users.
Security experts with the European ATM Security Team (EAST) say five countries in the region this year have reported card trapping incidents. Such attacks involve devices that fit over the card acceptance slot and include a razor-edged spring trap that prevents the customer’s card from being ejected from the ATM when the transaction is completed.
These devices were made to capture the ATM user’s card after the user withdrawals cash. Credit: EAST.
“Spring traps are still being widely used,” EAST wrote in its most recently European Fraud Update. “Once the card has been inserted, these prevent the card being returned to the customer and also stop the ATM from retracting it. According to reports from one country – despite warning messages that appear on the ATM screen or are displayed on the ATM fascia – customers are still not reporting when their cards are captured, leading to substantial losses from ATM or point-of-sale
According to EAST, most card trapping incidents take place outside normal banking hours with initial fraudulent usage taking place within 10 minutes of the card capture (balance inquiry and cash withdrawal at a nearby ATM), followed by point-of-sale transactions.
A twist on this attack involves “cash traps,” often claw-like contraptions that thieves insert into the cash-dispensing slot which are capable of capturing or skimming some of the dispensed bills. Here are a few pictures of a cash-trapping device from an EAST report released earlier this year.
Claw-like cash trap devices found inserted into ATMs in Europe. Source: EAST.
I spent several hours this past week watching video footage from hidden cameras that skimmer thieves placed at ATMs to surreptitiously record customers entering their PINs. I was surprised to see that out of the dozens of customers that used the compromised cash machines, only one bothered to take the simple but effective security precaution of covering his hand when entering his 4-digit code.
I recently obtained the video footage recorded by that hidden ball camera. The first segment shows the crook installing the skimmer cam at a drive-up ATM early on a Sunday morning. The first customer arrives just seconds after the fraudster drives away, entering his PIN without shielding the keypad and allowing the camera to record his code. Dozens of customers after him would do the same. One of the customers in the video clip below voices a suspicion that something isn’t quite right about the ATM, but he proceeds to enter his PIN and withdraw cash anyhow. A few seconds later, the hidden camera records him reciting the PIN for his ATM card, and asking his passenger to verify the code.
Some readers may thinking, “Wait a minute: Isn’t it more difficult to use both hands when you’re withdrawing cash from a drive-thru ATM while seated in your car?” Maybe. You might think, then, that it would be more common to see regular walk-up ATM users observing this simple security practice. But that’s not what I found after watching 90 minutes of footage from another ATM scam that was recently shared by a law enforcement source. In this attack, the fraudster installed an all-in-one skimmer, and none of the 19 customers caught on camera before the scheme was foiled made any effort to shield the PIN pad.
It’s getting harder to detect some of the newer ATM skimmers, fraud devices attached to or inserted into cash machines and designed to steal card and PIN data. Among the latest and most difficult-to-spot skimmer innovations is a wafer-thin card reading device that can be inserted directly into the ATM’s card acceptance slot.
That’s according to two recent reports from the European ATM Security Team (EAST), an organization that collects ATM fraud reports from countries in the region. In both reports, EAST said one country (it isn’t naming which) alerted them about a new form of skimming device that is thin enough to be inserted directly into the card reader slot. These devices record the data stored on the magnetic stripe on the back of the card as it is slid into a compromised ATM.
Wafer-thin skimmers like these are showing up in ATMs in one European nation. Images courtesy EAST.