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SOUTH SHORE: Skimmers, scammers and scum

Published on: September 13, 2018

It’s getting easier for criminals to skim money from your bank account


Criminals are finding new ways to steal your financial information from your credit or debit card when used at a compromised ATM, gas pump or retail card reader. There are ways to protect yourself.

Community Resource Deputy Jeff Merry is always looking for ways to help folks keep their money safe. And crafty criminals are continually hard at work trying to do the opposite.

In mid-August, Merry attended a three-day workshop about current trends in crime and economic fraud. It was, to say the least, eye- opening.

One of the seminar’s focuses was the proliferation of credit- and debit-card fraud, a subject that hit Merry close to home.

“My wife was recently a victim of ATM skimming, where more that $3,000 was taken from her checking account (in a series of rapid transactions) that left the balance at  minus-$1,400,” he said. “Although we caught it right away, the account was frozen for 10 business days while the bank investigated to determine liability. It took almost a week for her to get provisional credit and six weeks for the bank to fully refund the money and all the fees.”

Merry said this can happen to anyone.

He and his wife are now both personally transferring all their transactions to credit cards, which are much easier to deal with in recouping illegal charges. When reported immediately, a customer’s liability is generally limited to $50.

Credit card transactions can be stopped and reversed at any time, experts say. Debit card transactions involve an immediate transfer of cash.  

These same experts report credit- and debit-card fraud have gone up exponentially over the past three years. According to FICO (Fair Isaac Corp.), the company that calculates credit scores, ATM fraud has already gone up 10 percent this year, Merry said.

Community Resource Deputy Jeff Merry wants to help you keep your money safe. He will present three forums this month on devices used by criminals to steal your banking information off credit and debit cards and what you can do to protect your finances.

“Bad guys use devices called skimmers,  shimmers and overlays to steal your credit- or debit-card number and pin number (from the card reader),” Merry said.  

Criminals install skimmers, small card readers attached to payment terminals, to steal all the details off a credit or debit card’s magnetic stripe. That information is then used to create cloned cards or break directly into accounts.

Shimmers, more insidious criminal tools, are very thin devices inserted inside payment terminals to get your banking information. These target chip-based cards, which, although more secure, can still be read to clone their magnetic strips. Unlike skimmers, they can’t be seen from the outside.  

There are ways to protect yourself, and Merry will discuss them this month and next at the following locations:

• 11 a.m. Sept. 18, Freedom Auditorium, 1010 American Eagle Blvd., Freedom Plaza 

10 a.m. Oct. 9, Caper Room, Community Association Atrium, 945 N. Course Lane, Sun City Center

• 1 p.m. Oct. 9, Ripple Room, Kings Point North Club, 1900 Clubhouse Drive, Kings Point

He will cover the different devices identity thieves use on ATM and debit/credit card machines, what you can do to protect yourself and the steps to follow should you become a victim.

The forums are open to all residents of Sun City Center and surrounding communities, and they are free.

For more information, call Merry or  Community Service Aide Michelle Mortimer at 813-242-5525.