The Skimming Scam

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WEBSummer Stephan Headshot.jpg

As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and you, the community. One way I hope to do that is through this new monthly column, where I’ll be providing information and tips on how you can stay safe. I’ll also keep you updated on current trends and topics in the criminal justice system.

One area of crime prevention that we’re always working to warn the public about is the variety of scams that target our community.  

As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and you, the community. One way I hope to do that is through this new monthly column, where I’ll be providing information and tips on how you can stay safe. I’ll also keep you updated on current trends and topics in the criminal justice system.

One area of crime prevention that we’re always working to warn the public about is the variety of scams that target our community.  

It’s no secret that criminals have found a multitude of ways to bilk us in many aspects of our lives. From pumping gas to paying bills online – from checking e-mail to even answering the phone, scams abound.  Our office does our best to hold these criminals accountable, but it’s a little like the “Whack-A-Mole” game — once law enforcement shuts down one scam, another one inevitably pops up.

Still, some scams are constant, including skimming for credit card numbers.

How to Stay Safe at the Gas Pump and ATMs

One way consumers can avoid getting scammed at the gas pump or ATM is by making sure you’re using a legitimate card reader and not an illegal skimmer. Skimmers are placed on top of card readers to capture credit or debit card numbers when you use your card. Some of them contain pinhole-sized cameras, which record you entering your PIN or zip code. Once an ID thief breaks open the panel of a gas pump, for example, he or she will place an electronic device inside the card reader to steal information.

As soon as the credit or debit card information has been stolen, the thief can make a fraudulent credit card and use it to shop online.

Skimmers have also been placed on ATMs, where customers withdraw cash. The best way to detect whether the card reader is real is by tugging on it to make sure it’s permanent. Skimmers, which are glued on top of the card reader, will move with a little pressure.

Also look for unbroken audit tape from the gas station or the County. If it’s not broken, that’s a good sign the card reader is OK to use. 

In San Diego County, the Secret Service receives one or two complaints per week about skimmers.

To recap, here are tips on how to spot a skimmer or how to avoid falling prey to one:

Physically pull on the card reader to make sure it’s permanent

Use a pump that is in sight of the cashier

Look for the audit tape to see if it’s broken or tampered with

Pay inside 

Use cash instead of a card

Report tampering to an employee and report fraud to local law enforcement.

If you have been the victim of skimming, contact: Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-438-4338 or go to https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0014-identity-theft.pdf.

District Attorney Summer Stephan has dedicated more than 27 years to serving justice and victims of crime as prosecutor. She is a leader in creating smart and fair criminal justice solutions and restorative justice practices that treat the underlying causes of addiction and mental illness and that keep young people from being incarcerated.

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