US attorney ripped off by ATM skimmer

Skimming is now a $1 billion-a-year criminal activity. Don't let it happen to you.

By Donna_Freedman Sep 23, 2011 10:29AM

When U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan appeared at a Seattle press conference to talk about the rise in ATM skimming, she was very knowledgeable about the topic. A little too well-prepared, in fact: Durkan lost $1,000 from her own bank account recently after using an ATM kiosk whose door lock was broken. (More on that later.)

Technology makes it pretty easy for crooks to steal your money. Short form: We're handing them the info they need to clean out our accounts.

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Half a dozen people were arrested in the Seattle area in connection with skimming scams totaling almost $1 million, according to The Seattle Times. Durkan said the arrests may have broken up the biggest ATM theft ring on the West Coast.

Skimming techniques vary, but most involve pinhole cameras and fake ATM faceplates equipped with card readers. Some even buy real card slots from ATM manufacturers.

Unknowing consumers put in their cards and are filmed typing in their PINs; the info is synched up later on and then the thieves start withdrawing money.

One estimate of skimming's damage? A billion dollars a year, according to Durkan.

Since skimming also happens at other places, such as gas pumps, the FBI offers some tips on protecting your ATM and credit cards:
  • Eyeball the ATM, gas pump or card reader. Is it loose, crooked or damaged? Do you see scratches or sticky tape residue?
  • Be particularly wary of tourist-area ATMs.
  • Whenever possible, use indoor ATMs. They're harder to tamper with successfully.
  • Shield the keypad with your other hand while typing in your PIN.
  • If you try to cancel the transaction and your card doesn't return, or if it doesn't come back out after your transaction, contact your bank or credit union immediately.
The Seattle Times suggests some additional measures:
  • Feel the card slot. If it's raised, crooks may have put in equipment.
  • If the lock on the door to the ATM kiosk is broken, don't go in.
  • An "out of order" sign on one ATM could be a thief's way of getting you to use his wired-up machine.
  • Jiggle your card as you take it out of the slot; if a skimmer is in there, the motion might jar it loose.
  • Having trouble with the machine? Don't let that nice person loitering nearby help you. Guard your card.
The Times also suggests you check your account regularly, in order to spot unauthorized withdrawals. I'd like to add my own suggestion: Use your debit card to get cash back with grocery or drugstore purchases, and skip ATMs altogether.

More on MSN Money:


Sep 23, 2011 1:39PM
These A-holes end up ruining peoples life' far as I'm concerned when we catch them deal with them via the China method, i.e. kneel down and get popped in the back of the head. If that's to "cruel" for the namby folks out there then give them one chance, fly them out to sea 5 miles and dump them in.  If they manage to swim back then they get a 2nd chance. If they don't then they are fish food. Have to think if they did make it back they might just clean up their act.
Sep 23, 2011 2:18PM
I got a sure fire way to prevent that from happening.  I never seem to have money in the bank anyway.  Cant get, what I don't have....
Sep 23, 2011 12:51PM

The article never went into detail about what happened to Durkin. You really do have to pay very close attention to your accounts because sometimes they're not taking everything sometimes they are only taking a few cents or dollars. over the course of several weeks to see if you do anything about it or they're waiting for larger amounts of money to be deposited (income tax time) then they wipe you out.

Sep 23, 2011 5:11PM
I'm against capital punishment but believe the Saudis have the answer to criminals who commit crimes of theft. Cut off their hands. Quit picking on the victims and concentrate on punishing the criminals! .
Sep 23, 2011 5:13PM
Death on the spot for those crooks. No more sending them to a prison/resort, death to all criminals.
Sep 23, 2011 4:07PM
I bet she solved the issue pretty fast, if this would have happened to any regular civilian, it would take years to solve. and your credit would all screwed up. but Since it happened to a big shot US Attorney then it fixed up in a week I bet.
Sep 23, 2011 12:59PM

Oh, I really like that last suggestion from Donna.  Using your card at the store just give the cashier a chance to rip you off. Turns out, there is a small window where the cashier can run through another charge. After you've left the line, the cashier rings up a bogus charge and takes the cash from drawer so it balances at the end of the day. It happened to my dad at a small-town grocery store.

I'd much rather trust my own inspection of the ATM than the checkout girl.

Sep 23, 2011 4:49PM

Another reason we need to change our outdated ATM/Credit cards in the U.S. to the type with the electronic chip. As an American living in Europe; I noticed that all the banks over here issue cards with the more secure electronic chips. Of course even these aren't foolproof and I'm sure the crooks are working on ways to crack these too. However, they are still much more secure than those magnetic strips. Over here they even use smart card chip technology for ID cards. Also, some places in the Netherlands wouldn't even take my U.S. bank issued credit card with the magnetic strip because the store's equipment only took cards with the chip. This is becoming more common place in Europe too. I got tired of my magnetic strip card not working half the time and was forced to open an account with a local bank where I have US dollars transfered to that account. I lose a little on the USD/Euro exchange rate, but at least I can use the card everywhere; except when I come home to New Jersey. It's the opposite, the chip technology doesn't work hardly anywhere in the Jersey City/NYC area.


Sep 23, 2011 3:34PM
Someone tried to pay the balance off on my account with a phony checking account and then used the credit, that would have put me at double the loss first the fee would have came back from this phony bank account then whatever they would have charged, and another incident someone charged $45 dollars in gas on my credit card at a gas station  when I went to the station that day I paid cash. I may close out my credit cards altogether it is too much of a hastle to reverse this damage these crooks are only getting better :(
Sep 23, 2011 5:12PM
I just got ripped off by someone in the UK. They took all my money! Can't figure out how they did it. Companies were WP-SCOACH E TICKET STOCKPORT GBUS AND NATIONAL EXPRESS BIRMINGHAM GBUS - not a good feeling!
Sep 23, 2011 1:20PM
Ohh; Ohh this is big NEWS! This goes on everyday out here in Seattle WA... LMAO Since they got a Big Shot Government Employee now there's a problem...
Sep 23, 2011 1:53PM

The SCAM is fraud against the Banks. Once the banks and the cops own up to that, you'd see a better enforcement effort since it would be affecting the real "victim"

A thief essentially enters through an electronic door to the bank and steals the funds. If the criminal used a bank managers keys to get in and stole a pile of cash, would the manager have to pay for the loss?

Sep 23, 2011 4:41PM

In May, I got gas in a less than perfect part of town. Not the worse part of town but still not good.  I had gassed up there many times before but not recently.  The next day, I am checking my account, which I do daily, and was surprised to see the balance down signficantly.  Someone had scammed me and charged $175 at iTunes.  Needless to say, I went to my bank, called iTunes and eventually got my money back. 


About 10 years ago, we had an offer to spend a weekend at a time share.  We had to put a deposit down, not much, but one morning after we put the deposit down, I tried to get gas and the card would not work. Called the bank and asked why I could not get gas.  The "manager" person from St_rw__d Resort had taken and sold my number to someone or used it himself.  They bought a laptop for $1400, $500 dollars to Lane Bryant (a big lady), etc.  We got our money back but it was a pain.


I know check each card reader before I swipe my card, especially at gas stations. It would be hard for theives to tamper with the ones in stores, like walmart, etc., but I am still weary.  Go cash for purchases.  I am doing that starting 9/30!!

Sep 23, 2011 5:00PM

There is a real easy way to solve the problem!  Don't use ATM cards and use your CC cards sparingly!

Works for me!!!!!!! Angel

Sep 23, 2011 5:05PM
Ever since my poor mother was a victim of debt card theft, from the overnight nurse in her Alzheimer's group home, I diligently check my accounts everyday.  I thought I was okay until I made what I thought was a trusted purchase online and the f*****s that got my info cleaned me right out.  They were somewhere in Latvia or Africa or God knows where... I will not let these petty thefts go unnoticed and if America had any friggin balls, they would do what happens in the Arab world and that is an eye for an eye and if you're caught stealing they cut off your hand, if you steal again they cut off your other hand.  What a pity that we live in this land of fear and now cannot trust anybody and we have to protect ourselves because the Government is the first to give it to us the little guys, and heaven forbid a government official gets scammed , then they look into it?  Please somebody, when will the madness end? I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore!
Sep 23, 2011 6:44PM
I truly believe that anyone that buys anything on line is a damn fool. I got my debit card number stolen, still don't know how, but took a half day off to call every place that it was used to cancel every account that was opened. I let them know that anything that was shipped would not be paid for. Called the cops and took every step that I could. That was the end of it. It was three years ago. They should also track down anyone that has a skimmer for sale on line and throw them in jail. Ban any ads for them and slap a $500,000 fine for anyone that allows one of them to show up on their website. No questions asked.
Sep 23, 2011 3:32PM
i 'spect we can expect a wave of anti-skimming /identity theft legislation/prosecutions????? not like it ISN'T loooong overdue!!! most of the law/court guys treat this vicious crime as kind of a joke------until it happens to them.
Sep 23, 2011 4:34PM
The Banks,  Visa and Mastercard don't pay for these thieves stealing your $$$ YOU do, and the companies you go to lose products and the $$$. They won't  change because they don't lose anything. WHY don't they make a different type of card? the card has been the same for years and is in effective against thieves.  Until Visa and Mastercard start losing something, they will not change.  I SAY PAY WITH CASH 
Sep 23, 2011 1:12PM

Jenny and her stupid cohorts won't catch anyone at this and this is nothing compared to what's in store for the future.  The crooks are always ahead of the system.  There is nothing "ingenious" about this.  It has been around for a long time, just that this idiot got robbed so now everyone is making such a big deal of it because of her position.  Too bad the average tax payer does not receive the same attention...  Hey Jenny, there is tech out there now that allows anyone card info without even running the card...  Too bad you and the Bureau of Idiots are sooooo behind the times...

Sep 23, 2011 6:43PM
I believe it is unfortunate when anyone is the victim of a crime. Twice, I had my account numbers stolen, and someone charged a significant amount of merchandise, including an expensive dress from Paris, before my purchase was denied, and I was notified something was wrong. Once I called Chase to see what the matter was, they explained I had recent large purchases and out of the ordinary spending habits, therefore they put a hold on my account.  OVER THE PHONE, that same day, they reversed all the charges, no questions asked. Next time, also Chase, and I was denied for being over the limit. When I called to inquire, I quickly realized someone had obtained my ATM card number, and had made purchases. AGAIN, Chase reversed the charges on the spot, and told me to check all bills carefully, and let them know if there were additional charges that were not mine.  I don't understand why some banks make it difficult to recover, or how people have had such a hard time fixing the theft. 
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