Thieves making fake ATM cards; many local victims - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Thieves making fake ATM cards; many local victims

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By Tom Roussey - bio l email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - WBTV has gotten new information about a fraud scheme in which 47 local Bank of America customers have seen their accounts wiped out, and an unknown number of others have seen some of their money stolen.

The U.S. Secret Service says the crooks who stole people's debit card and pin numbers are based in Chicago and appear to be part of a pretty sophisticated crime ring.

They believe the thieves came to Charlotte for about a week recently, stole the identity's of all the people they could, then went back to Chicago and started making fake debit cards.  They then used them to rob local people from Chicago ATMs.

The Secret Service says the criminals have been doing this up and down the east coast.

They're doing it with a relatively new twist on an old way to commit fraud -- bank card skimmers.

A skimmer is a device crooks can swipe a credit or debit card through.  It is able to record all the information on the card's magnetic strip.

Crooks are putting skimmers on top of the part of an ATM machine where you insert your card.  You might think that would be easy to spot, but in many cases they're able to make the skimmer look like it belongs by making it look exactly like what's beneath it.

The magnetic strip the skimmer can steal information off of doesn't have your personal pin number encoded on it -- but the crooks have found a way to get pin numbers at ATM machines.

Glenn Kessler with the U.S. Secret Service's Charlotte field office has been investigating debit card fraud.

He says crooks will set up a small camera, usually above the ATM, that records your fingers entering your pin number.

After retrieving the information they've stolen using the skimmer and camera, the crooks then make a fake debit card and use the pin number to take money out of an ATM.

"They're not actually having to make something that looks realistic," Kessler said while showing us a simple white plastic card with a black magnetic strip on the back.  "All they have to do is encode this card, this blank piece of plastic."

Cornelius resident Mandy Canzonieri seems to be one of many recent local victims of this kind of debit card fraud.

She recently went to the movies in Charlotte -- but while she was doing that, somebody in Chicago was using a fake ATM card to take $700 out of her bank account.

Mandy was shocked when the bank called her.

"I felt maybe it was a credit card where they just had the account number, and were maybe by phone trying to make a purchase," she said.  "They said, no, it was an actual, physical card, and I said, 'how is that possible without my pin number?'"

It turns out the thieves had Mandy's pin number, and authorities say it's likely they got it from an ATM they set up a skimmer and camera at.

"They got seven hundred dollars cash from me in one day," Mandy said.  "Who knows how much they're making off of people daily?  I hope they catch who's doing it."

The Secret Service says it is investigating to try to catch whoever's doing this.

They say crooks out of Eastern Europe have been known to target Americans this way, but it's not just people from there.

From WBTV's investigation into the problem, it appears there is some kind of Chicago connection to the current fraud cases.  It also seems many of the victims are, like Mandy, Bank of America customers.  But in the past other banks have been targeted.

The Secret Service say this scheme has gone on all over North Carolina.  It first hit Charlotte about a year and a half ago, and has been a growing problem ever since.  A number of new cases have popped up in recent days.

They say the best way to avoid becoming a victim is to cover your hand as you type in your pin number.  That way any small camera set up at the ATM won't be able to see what numbers you're hitting.

Also, thieves seem to prefer ATM's in out of the way places.  They don't like ATM's connected to banks or in places that are busy at night.

The Secret Service also recommends using your credit card instead of your debit card.

They say this fraud scheme isn't only going on at ATM's.  Crooks have been known to install skimmers and cameras at gas station pumps as well.

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