Police recommend vigilance when using ATMs

One example of an ATM skimming device. | BDO

By Elisa ShoenbergerLoop North News

When Jenni paid for her medication at a Loop Walgreens, she did not expect the transaction would cost more than a few dollars. Half an hour later, she got a notice that her card had been used 22 miles away in Hinsdale, a place she had never been. She soon discovered she had been a victim of ATM skimming.

Jenni says she immediately notified her bank, which canceled the card and issued a new one, “which was great.”

Unfortunately, before the card was shut down, she had $230 taken from her account that she would not get back because, she says, her bank ruled “that since whoever had the card had my PIN, it was just a case of someone having access to my PIN and it was apparently my issue for not securing my PIN.”

To protect other people from suffering the same fate, Jenni called the Walgreens to let them know about the skimming. Chicago police investigated but she has not heard much else. She has now added additional security to her accounts to prevent such issues in the future.

The law may be on her side. According to the Federal Trade Commission, if reported within two business days, the maximum loss on a lost or stolen debit card is $50. Credit cards have even more protections.

Card skimming has become a threat to consumers in recent years. In 2019, Comparecards.com reported that nearly one out of four Americans has been a victim of card skimming. It is a form of credit/debit card fraud in which thieves install a device, often in ATMs but in other locations where people swipe or insert cards. The devices intercept account information encoded in the magnetic strip of a credit or debit card. Some fraudsters use cameras to record fingers as they type PINs. The data is collected and used to extract cash from the compromised accounts.

While most people associate the practice with ATMs, card skimming is happening more often at non-bank locations. T.J. Horan, vice president of product management for FICO and head of its fraud solutions business unit, said in a 2016 New York Times interview that 60 percent of skimming incidents were at non-bank ATMs.

Banks often have cameras that can monitor their ATMs for misuse, but grocery stores, pharmacies, and gas stations are more common locations for cards to be skimmed.

Consumers can take steps to protect themselves. Howard Ludwig, public relations coordinator for Chicago Police Department, has these recommendations:

  • Use secure ATMs under video surveillance or inside a bank lobby, as these machines are less likely to be tampered with.
  • Pay careful attention to what the card reader and keypad normally look like on the ATMs you use most frequently. If anything seems suspicious, do not use the machine, and contact the bank as well as authorities.
  • When entering your PIN, cover the keypad with your hand. If thieves do not have your PIN, they will not be able to access your account.
  • Don’t use an ATM if the card reader appears to be added on, fits poorly, or is loose. Some thieves place a fake box over the card slot that reads and records account and PIN numbers.
  • Call the customer service number on the ATM immediately if a machine does not function properly.
  • Cards should have no problem functioning when placed in a reader. Cards should also fit tightly within the designated slot. If there is any irregularity placing a card into the slot or if it feels loose, do not use the ATM.

Police encourage ATM users to inspect the machine first, looking for any irregularities or loose parts. The card reader slot and PIN pad should not wiggle or have extra pieces visible. Nothing should move or pop off.

If you believe you are the victim of skimming or identity theft, immediately contact your financial institution and, if necessary, file a police report.

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CWBChicago was created in 2013 by five residents of Wrigleyville and Boystown who had grown disheartened with inaccurate information that was being provided at local Community Policing (CAPS) meetings. Our coverage area has expanded since then to cover Lincoln Park, River North, The Loop, Uptown, and other North Side Areas. But our mission remains unchanged: To provide original public safety reporting with better context and greater detail than mainstream media outlets. Our editorial email address is news@cwbchicago.com