LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Thieves across the Las Vegas valley are stealing bank and credit card account information with just one swipe of your card.
The practice is called skimming. Metro Police tell the I-Team it is a growing problem over the past several months, with the rise in the number of Nevadans getting unemployment benefits drawing criminals in.
“It was smaller amounts, and it was just like, ‘Wait a minute,’” Erin Kelly, a skimming victim, said. “At one of the ATMs, I probably was skimmed.”
Last year, Kelly realized his Bank of America account, the one the Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation (DETR) issues unemployment benefits to, was slowly getting drained. In all, he estimated hundreds of dollars were stolen.
“We see an increase of people needing to withdraw money weekly,” Metro Sgt. Erik Perkett said. Thieves are taking advantage of people in similar situations. “They want your account number, and they want your PIN, because once they have that, they have everything.”
Perkett showed the I-Team devices his team has recovered across the valley within the last six months, pieces of computer circuitry that look like home science projects.
But the low-grade technology can do big damage.
The skimming devices are either inserted into the device where you would insert or swipe your card or glued on top of point-of-sale devices. In addition, these thieves will stick pin-hole cameras onto the plastic coverings of an ATM, Perkett said.
The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to check for any tampering.
“Touch it, pull on it, twist it,” Perkett urged. “If it comes apart, it’s probably wrong. We’re looking at intelligent thieves. You have to have some type of knowledge of engineering; you have to have some type of knowledge of machinery to make these, implement these.”
But not intelligent enough to hide.
Investigators say Bank of America provided them with surveillance from a bank, which showed three men installing a skimming device on one of its ATMs.
Marian Poenaru, 20, a Romanian national, allegedly set up the device. When police visited the man’s apartment, they found 12 skimming devices and 575 forged cards that had been reencoded with DETR account information, police said.
In late April, detectives responded to two incidents involving the skimmers at Bank of America ATMs, one at 5240 Boulder Highway and a second at 2798 Green Valley Parkway.
Poenaru faces numerous charges, including establishing a financial forgery laboratory with intent to commit an unlawful act and forging a credit or debit card with intent to defraud.
Police say thieves in these situations will re-encode a gift card or other card with a magnetic strip with stolen bank card information. Banks nor DETR have control over this process.
“A lot of those forged cards contained unemployment benefit cards and other people’s bank account information that were going to be used by the suspects to withdraw cash and continue to victimize those consumers of the ATM,” Perkett said.
“Bank of America was amazing,” Kelly shared. “It took three weeks, and the money was back in my account.”
He got his money back but said the thieves stole a bit of human decency.
“Nobody likes to be stolen from,” Kelly said. “When it’s something that in a time when it’s desperate for you when that happened, it’s even a bit more disheartening.”
Perkett told the I-Team banks do a pretty good job making sure their ATMs cannot be skimmed. He said teams will check the security of ATMs, and in Poenaru’s case, alert police if they find any skimmers or covert cameras.
The best thing an account holder can do to protect their information is pay with your phone or tap your card to pay, if possible, Perkett said. Newer chip cards have technology inside that emits a radio frequency allowing you to tap it rather than swipe it.
Bank of America did not return a request for comment.