On February 8, 2009, a customer at an ATM at a Bank of America branch in Sun Valley, Calif., spotted something that didn’t look quite right about the machine: A silver, plexiglass device had been attached to the ATM’s card acceptance slot, in a bid to steal card data from unsuspecting ATM users.
But the customer and the bank’s employees initially overlooked a secondary fraud device that the unknown thief had left at the scene: A sophisticated, battery operated and motion activated camera designed to record victims entering their personal identification numbers at the ATM.
The camera was discovered more than a day later by a maintenance worker who was servicing the ATM. The device, pictured below with the boxy housing in which it was discovered, was designed to fit into the corner of the ATM framework and painted to match.
The self-contained camera and box attached to the Bank of America ATM
The ATM pictured on the right below is shown with the card skimmer and video camera attached (click the image for a slightly larger look).
California police say the video camera and skimmer were installed by the person pictured below. The entire scam ran only for about three hours, and was reported about 11 AM. Police recovered both the skimmer and video camera, so no customer or bank losses ensued as a result of the attack. Meanwhile, the crook responsible remains at large.
The image below shows some of the manufacturer’s specs on the “Camball-2” camera that was used in this attack, which retails for around $200 and runs for about 48 hours on motion detection mode.
Here’s a closer look at the relatively crude device attached to the mouth of the card insert slot, designed to steal data recorded on the magnetic stripe on the back of all bank cards. Criminals can then encode the information onto counterfeit cards, and — armed with the victim’s PIN — withdraw money from the victim’s account from ATMs around the world.
The authorities I’ve been interviewing about skimmer scams say the devices are most commonly installed on weekends, when many banks are closed or have limited hours. It’s difficult — once you know about the existence of these fraud devices — not to pull on parts of ATMs to make sure they aren’t compromised. If something comes off of the machine when you yank on it, and the bank is closed or the ATM isn’t attached to a financial institution, it’s probably best just to leave the device at the scene and not try to make off with it. Otherwise, consider the difficulty in explaining your actions should you be confronted by police after walking away. What’s more, in many skimmer cases, the fraudster who placed it there is monitoring the scene from somewhere within viewing distance of the compromised ATM.
It’s easy to be frightened by ATM skimmers, but try not to let these fraud devices spook you away entirely: Stick to machines in well-lit areas, places where you feel relatively safe physically. On top of that, cover your hand when entering your PIN, as many skimmers rely on hidden cameras and can’t steal your account credentials without recording those digits. Also, remember that any losses you may incur from skimmers should be fully reimbursable by your bank (at least in the United States). While the temporary loss of funds may not cover the cost of any checks that bounce because of the incident, these also are losses that your financial institution should cover if they were incurred because of a skimmer incident.
Have you seen:
Green Skimmers Skimming Green…To combat an increase in ATM fraud from skimmer devices, cash machine makers have been outfitting ATMs with a variety of anti-skimming technologies. In many cases, these anti-skimming tools take the shape of green or blue semi-transparent plastic casings that protrude from the card acceptance slot to prevent would-be thieves from easily attaching skimmers. But in a surprising number of incidents, skimmer scammers have simply crafted their creations to look exactly like the anti-skimming devices.