A nonprofit organization is suing the state of Massachusetts on behalf of thousands of low-income families who were collectively robbed of more than a $1 million in food assistance benefits by card skimming devices secretly installed at cash machines and grocery store checkout lanes across the state. Federal law bars states from replacing these benefits using federal funds, and a recent rash of skimming incidents nationwide has disproportionately affected those receiving food assistance via state-issued prepaid debit cards.
When people banking in the United States lose money because their payment card got skimmed at an ATM, gas pump or grocery store checkout terminal, they may face hassles or delays in recovering any lost funds, but they are almost always made whole by their financial institution. Yet, one class of Americans — those receiving food assistance benefits via state-issued prepaid debit cards — are particularly exposed to losses from skimming scams, and usually have little recourse to do anything about it.
A number of financial institutions in and around New York City are dealing with a rash of super-thin “deep insert” card skimming devices designed to fit inside the mouth of an ATM’s card acceptance slot. The card skimmers are paired with tiny pinhole cameras that are cleverly disguised as part of the cash machine. Here’s a look at some of the more sophisticated deep insert skimmer technology that fraud investigators have recently found in the wild.
Last summer, financial institutions throughout Texas started reporting a sudden increase in attacks involving well-orchestrated teams that would show up at night, use stolen trucks and heavy chains to rip Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) out of their foundations, and make off with the cash boxes inside. Now it appears the crime — known variously as “ATM smash-and-grab” and “chain gang” attacks — is rapidly increasing in other states.
In 2015, police departments worldwide started finding ATMs compromised with advanced new “shimming” devices made to clone data from chip card transactions. Authorities in the United States and abroad had seized many of these shimmers, but for years couldn’t decrypt the data on the devices. This is a story of ingenuity and happenstance, and how one former Secret Service agent helped crack a code that revealed the contours of a global organized crime ring.
Easily the most sophisticated skimming devices made for hacking terminals at retail self-checkout lanes are a new breed of PIN pad overlay combined with a flexible, paper-thin device that fits inside the terminal’s chip reader slot. What enables these skimmers to be so slim? They draw their power from the low-voltage current that gets triggered when a chip-based card is inserted. As a result, they do not require external batteries, and can remain in operation indefinitely.
The leader of Mexico’s Green Party has been removed from office following allegations that he received money from a Romanian ATM skimmer gang that stole hundreds of millions of dollars from tourists visiting Mexico’s top tourist destinations over the past five years. The scandal is the latest fallout stemming from a three-part investigation into the organized crime group by KrebsOnSecurity in 2015.
As a total sucker for anything skimming-related, I was interested to hear from a reader working security for a retail chain in the United States that recently found bluetooth-enabled skimming devices placed over top of payment card terminals at several stores. Interestingly, these skimmers interfered with the terminal’s ability to read chip-based cards, forcing customers to swipe the stripe instead.
Chip-based credit and debit cards are designed to make it infeasible for skimming devices or malware to clone your card when you pay for something by dipping the chip instead of swiping the stripe. But a recent series of malware attacks on U.S.-based merchants suggest thieves are exploiting weaknesses in how certain financial institutions have implemented the technology to sidestep key chip card security features and effectively create usable, counterfeit cards.