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Thieves fit ATM with device to steal numbers

NEW PORT RICHEY — A 58-year-old man noticed something odd at an ATM on Saturday morning. When he tried to insert his card, there seemed to be a piece attached to the machine that was loose.

It didn't seem right, so the man removed it from the ATM at the Bank of America branch at 5242 Little Road. Because that branch was closed, he took it to another location and showed it to a teller. The bank then called the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.

Authorities say what the man found was a skimming device — a small machine that scans and stores debit card numbers. The device was planted at the ATM by criminals, along with a small camera aimed at the keypad in hopes of capturing personal identification numbers. With the debit card numbers from the skimming device and PINs from the camera, thieves can access and drain customers' bank accounts.

Kevin Doll, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office, said this is the first report he's heard of a skimming device being used in the county in his 12-year-career.

Detectives determined that someone wearing a hat and driving what appeared to be a Dodge minivan installed the skimming device at 8:35 a.m. Saturday, deputies said. A second suspect wearing a baseball cap followed in a four-door BMW.

Less than 10 minutes later, the suspicious customer removed the device.

The two suspects returned to the ATM at 9:45 a.m. and took the camera, which the customer didn't notice. The camera without the skimming device is useless — and vice versa, said Detective Natalie McSwane of the economic crimes unit at the Sheriff's Office. McSwane said these skimming devices are installed quickly and, unfortunately, are available for purchase online.

To protect yourself from thieves, McSwane said to look for devices on ATMs and other card-swiping machines.

"If it removes, then it's probably not supposed to be there," she said.

She also urged people to always shield their PINs when entering them on keypads — at ATMs, gas stations, grocery stores; even if no one seems to be around to see it.

Anyone who knows anything about this case or who might have witnessed suspicious activity at the bank branch on Saturday is asked to call McSwane at 1-800-854-2862, ext. 7291.

Erin Sullivan can be reached at esullivan@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6229.

Thieves fit ATM with device to steal numbers 05/19/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 19, 2010 10:59pm]
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