Fighting fraud: keeping skimmers from scamming you & your money

(AP File Photo/Martin Meissner)
(AP File Photo/Martin Meissner)

TIPPECANOE COUNTY, Ind. (WLFI) – The holiday season is quickly approaching, which means thieves are getting more creative when it comes to stealing your credit card information.

“It’s definitely an uneasy feeling, it kind of makes you feel powerless” credit card fraud victim Andrew Winstead said.

It’s as easy as swipe, click and steal — at least that was the case for Winstead.

“I don’t know what I could have done to prevent it,” said Winstead. “It’s hard to think it’s so easy.”

He realized his credit card account was under attack when his bank warned him about suspicious charges.

“I was asked to confirm or deny whether I had made those purchases,” said Winstead. “And they were from out of town.”

The charges were made in Huntington, 88 miles away from his home in Lafayette. He said the scariest part is his card never left his wallet.

Winstead is one of thousands who have fallen victim to credit card skimming.

West Lafayette Police Detective Jeff Dunscomb said he’s counted 132 victims to fraud this year. He’s worked on three or four skimming cases alone.

“We’ve seen a pretty good increase in skimming cases,” said Dunscomb. “The scary thing is that it’s not caught for a couple of days.”

Skimming is when thieves use a small device to steal someone’s credit card numbers and information. It can happen almost anywhere, but the most popular spots are gas stations and ATMs.

“There’s a memory chip in the card reader and in the actual skimmer that records your card’s information,” said Dunscomb.

From there, the skimmer can reverse your card’s info onto anything with a magnetic strip.

Recent skimmers who have cashed in at nearby ATMs didn’t only install a skimming device, they also installed a camera above the machine to record people’s pin numbers as they punched them in.

“Your credit card can be depleted before it’s caught by the bank or before you catch it yourself,” said Dunscomb.

The biggest skimming case locally took place at the West Lafayette McDonald’s.

“The cashier would take the card from the window, would scan the card through the cash register and enter the information through the cash register,” said Dunscomb. “Then she had a skimming device on her belt and in one motion she would skim through [the cash register], skim up through her belt and hand the card back out the window.”

In just one month, the former cashier cashed in on more than $6,000.

“This went on for quite a while before we figured out the common denominator was one location, and we’re able to put a stop to it,” said Dunscomb.

Cyber security expert Rachel Sitarz expressed, “Criminals are always five steps ahead of everything else.”

She said criminals can easily get their hands on skimming devices.

“You can find them and purchase them on the internet. I know that they have them on Amazon, EBay and sites where they’re already made,” said Sitarz. “You just buy it and they can send it to you.”

But just when you think you’re safe, thieves are always finding new ways to scheme people.

To this day, Winstead isn’t sure where his card was skimmed. Even though insurance has covered the losses, he said it’s made him more aware.

“Just trying to use cash if I can or just making sure I really only use my card at reputable places,” said Winstead.

Wednesday night at six, News 18 will give you some tools investigators say will help keep you safe.