Two Miami residents are facing federal charges for allegedly installing credit card skimmers at gas pumps in South Florida. The case is another reason to be wary heading into the busiest travel season of the year.
"There have been incidents of skimming at the pump -- and other locations. In most cases, it is organized criminals groups and they tend to work an area before they go to a different area," Jeff Lenard, vice president, strategic industry initiatives at the National Association of Convenience Stores, said. "Between pickpockets and skimming, people will want to be alert over the holidays."
Indicted Nov. 13, Floridians Anthony Nunovero and Edelso Sanchez are accused of stealing information from about 2,000 credit and debit cards to create counterfeit versions. The men allegedly attached modified scanners to gas pump readers, with the two even replacing tamper-proof seal stickers on the pumps with phony ones, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The scenario is a replay of a crime that from January to April 9, 2015, hit a two-decade high, according to FICO, a credit-scoring and analytics firm. The cost to banks and customers: roughly $3 billion.
"The trend is just a general straight line increase through 2015 -- it's dramatically up across all regions," Owen Wild, director of security marketing at NCR, a maker of ATMs and other payment systems, said.
While skimming is the No. 1 crime affecting ATM machines around the world, the U.S. is especially vulnerable due to its relatively slow pace at adopting EMV technology that embeds cards with computer chips. "It's one of the reasons we're seeing such a dramatic increase in skimming attacks in the U.S.," Wild said. "Crime always goes to the weakest link. We are weak and we are large."
And, while U.S. banks are now issuing cards embedded with chips, most are keeping the magnetic stripe so they can be used either way. "Issuers want their cards used in the widest areas of acceptance," Wild said.
Newer skimmers are nearly invisible to the eye, sitting within an ATM card slot and capturing data when consumers insert their cards. A hidden camera then records customers as they enter their PIN number. Some older skimmers are easier to spot, fitting on top of the card-reader slot.
From Lenard's perspective, gas stations and other businesses can guard against skimming by routinely checking pump readers for signs of tampering, along with using stickers designed to prevent tampering. Consumers should also be on the lookout: "Does the pin pad look weather beaten compared to the dispenser? That's a red flag."
NCR's Wild, however, maintains technology exists to virtually eradicate skimming in the U.S., and it's up to banks and retail outlets to reach out to his company or rivals for upgrades. "The onus for protection really needs to come from financial institutions or ATM operators. Where the consumer has a little input is questioning their vendors -- am I using equipment that is protecting me?"