Digital pickpockets can steal credit card info with a tap - FOX10 News | WALA

Investigation

Digital pickpockets can steal credit card info with a tap

Posted: Updated:
MOBILE, AL (WALA) -

Law enforcement officials say credit card skimming is an unfortunately popular trend across the Gulf Coast.
 
It's a crime that's tough for authorities to solve, leaving victims without justice. 

Recently in Daphne, thieves placed a skimmer on an ATM at Hancock Bank on Highway 98. Another was retrieved up the road at Trustmark Bank. and three more were found in Milton, Gulf Breeze, and Destin around the same time. 

After thieves skim your card info, the crooks will then re-encode the card information onto the magnetic strip of another credit card, physically cloning your card to use at any store of their choice. 
Captain Jud Beedy with Daphne Police says his department is still searching for the crooks.

"There are people out there every minute of every day trying to figure out ways to steal your identity and do whatever they want to with it," said Capt. Beedy. 

Secret Service involvement

Authorities say those people are professionals. 

The United States Secret Service's Mobile branch is assisting Daphne Police with this crime and other skimmer operations across the Alabama Gulf Coast. 

FOX10 News asked Resident Agent In Charge Earl "Ben" Hicks how victims can be ripped off so easily, while crooks get away unscathed. 

"A lot of them are professionals that install the devices on the ATMs, and they know what they're doing, they know which brand of ATM that they're targeting," explained Agent Hicks. "It just takes them a matter of seconds to install it, and recover it."

Agent Hicks said crooks are also targeting gas pumps. 

"The perpetrators will access the service panel on a gas pump, install a skimmer, either come back later, and recover it, or monitor it remotely using some kind of technology such a Bluetooth," said Agent Hicks. 

Hicks said after they skim your card info, thieves will then re-encode the card information onto the magnetic strip of another credit card, physically cloning your card to use at any store of their choice. 

Smart phones used as wireless skimming devices

That's not all. Officials say crooks are also using cell phones to scan your credit card information. 

Modern-day smart phones equipped with NFC capability or "near field communication" can be turned into wireless skimming devices.

If the thief knows just the right apps to download, that crook can scan your credit card wirelessly, through a wallet or purse, then use that information to virtually clone your credit card. They can then use their phone as your card, making tap-to-pay purchases around town.

If you have a tap-to-pay credit card, like a MasterCard Pay Pass, a Visa PayWave, or you see a radio signal symbol on the back of your card, you'll want to be wary of your surroundings. 

For example, if you're standing in a long line of people, a thief could use his smart phone to discretely scan the wallet nestled in your back pocket. The crook's phone will pick up the credit card's NFC signal, loading all of the card's information into the phone. 

Then, the crook has stolen your personal information, without you knowing it ever happened. 

Police warn the tap-to-pay option may not be the most secure for consumers. 

"I think every step that's taken to make it easier for you to use your credit card is a step that makes it easier for people to steal your information," said Capt. Beedy. 

Monie Timothy, of Mobile, believes she may have fallen victim to that kind of crime. 

She said one night last summer, she stopped at a pizza place. When she handed the cashier her credit card, she noticed something out of the ordinary. 

"I noticed he turned his back on me, and started rubbing my card on his pants. I thought that was kind of strange, but didn't think much of it. Got my food, came home," explained Timothy.

The next morning, Timothy discovered records of purchases on her credit card statement she didn't make, someone had spent more than $100 to buy video games. 

"It made me angry, to be a victim, no one likes to be victimized," said Timothy. 

Credit card companies respond

FOX10 News reached out to credit card companies about the digital pickpocket problem. 

MasterCard spokesman, Chris Kangas, issued this statement:

"Sniffing, replay and relay attacks have been reported by the media and others as threats to contactless payments.  Cardholders can rest assured that MasterCard has and continues to invest significantly to ensure the security of the payment system including for MasterCard contactless technology.  As a consequence of these investments, the various attack scenarios which are difficult for criminals to conduct, make this an unattractive means of committing fraud.  Accordingly, in the 10 years since contactless was launched, MasterCard is not aware of any fraud incidents using these techniques."

A Visa spokeswoman, Sandra Chu, said "contactless skimming doesn't really happen in the real world, but skimming of magnetic stripes are a real problem that the payment industry is working on fixing."

Officials say folks can upgrade their cards with new chip technology which offers an extra layer of security for cardholders.  

When you swipe a chip credit card at a chip-activated pay terminal, a unique one-time code is generated to approve the transaction.  

To learn more about chip technology cards, click here.

Other card companies are pushing for the switch over to "chip-and-pin" cards as well. 

The only problem?

Vendors still need to buy the machines made for those chip-and-pin cards.

Tips to protect yourself

So, how can you protect yourself until those chip-and-pin cards and reader machines become more of a readily available security feature?

First, keep track of your credit card statement daily, and while at the ATM, look out for anything loose or broken, and cover the keypad while you punch in the pin. 

Don't let your credit card out of your possession, so when you pay at a restaurant, just pay with cash, rather than letting a waiter take your card. 

Store your credit card and bank statements in a locked, safe place when you're away from home. 

Finally, if you have a tap-to-pay card, keep it in an aluminum foil sleeve in your wallet, so it will block others from scanning your card info.

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