MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- We use our credit and debit cards several times a day, at gas pumps, grocery stores, ATMs. But while we go about everyday life, thieves may be trying to swipe our private credit card information. WCCO found where Twin Cities police are finding skimmers and the best way to protect your money.
It takes seconds for a criminal to put a card skimmer on an ATM but the effects can be long lasting. Authorities have found card skimmers almost anywhere credit or debit card get used.
"I'm looking for any sort of forced entry into the pump, pumps have latches and locks," Department of Commerce Weights and Measures investigator Brett Willhite said.
The Department of Commerce is tasked with checking for skimmers on gas pumps as part of annual inspections. On the outside, investigator Willhite looks for loose pieces or an overlay on the keypad or card reader. But many discoveries are hidden from the eye.
"There can be a little device that slides in to catch the credit card information as it enters in or there could be a cable interrupted device. Where I'm looking for the cables to make sure there isn't a break between the credit card scanner and the motherboard on the inside," Willhite said.
Someone can buy a universal key online to open some pumps. Something consumers can look for is a security seal. If someone's tried to tamper with the pump, the seal will show white or clear marks, meaning it's voided.
And your phone can assist. Some skimmers use Bluetooth technology to steal your information. If you see a long list of sources trying to connect, it could be a sign of a skimmer. Since 2016 the Department of Commerce has found 43 skimmers on pumps across the state.
WCCO pored over police reports and found officers uncovered at least 18 credit card skimmers last year in cities from Burnsville to Eden Prairie to Maplewood. One was on a grocery store checkout register, but most were on ATMs.
"They're getting more and more creative and we have to catch up to realize what technology they have," Edina Police officer Mike Sussman said.
Sussman and an ATM tech removed a skimmer at an Edina bank.
"This was actually inside of the card reader and this is a handmade device. It reads the information off your magnetic strip, records all of your information onto here," Sussman explained as he showed a skimmer.
But in this case the bad guys didn't stop with skimmers swiping your card.
"They had a piece that was looking like a piece of the ATM that was simply held on by double sided tape but on the back of this there's a battery that actually powers a little camera," Sussman said.
The hidden camera picks up your PIN, giving thieves the information they need. That's why it's even more important now to cover your PIN when getting cash.
"You can immediately turn the stolen information into cash which is their ultimate goal," Sussman said.
It's harder to spot a skimmer on an ATM, so be sure to add fraud alerts and protection to your cards. There's no centralized way to report: you can contact police, the Secret Service and the Department of Commerce.
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