Local News

Skimmers hitting debit card customers across N.C.

Posted December 29, 2009 5:01 p.m. EST
Updated December 29, 2009 7:22 p.m. EST

— Cases in which debit card information has been stolen are cropping up across North Carolina, and officials said Tuesday that thousands of customers could be affected.

The State Employees Credit Union informed about 300 customers in recent days that their account information had been obtained by skimmers and used to make withdrawals and purchases.

Skimming devices record data from the magnetic strips on the back of financial cards to create counterfeits, police said. Criminals place them automated teller machines or gas pumps to collect data, and they use hidden cameras to record people's personal identification numbers.

SECU officials on Tuesday released photos of six men believed to have used stolen debit card information at credit union ATMs along the Interstate 85 corridor.

Account information has been stolen from customers in Raleigh to Winston-Salem to Charlotte, according to SECU security officer Cory Mathes. He said the widespread nature of the thefts leads him to believe either a large skimming network is involved or someone has hacked into the computer system of a company that processes debit card transactions.

"Once you use your card, it goes through the ATM and is then sent to a processor to send to your financial institution. It could be hacked at that point or compromised at that point," Mathes said.

Either way, he said, it's likely that customers of other financial institutions have had their account information compromised as well.

"Across the state of North Carolina, there is no telling (how many people are affected)," he said. "Cards are being used that were compromised in North Carolina in West Virginia. That number is still growing. It's in the thousands."

Representatives of Bank of America and Wachovia declined to comment on potential skimming cases, saying only that they monitor ATMs and work with law enforcement to combat fraud. A spokeswoman for RBC bank said they haven't had any reports of account skimming in the Raleigh area.

SECU customer Denise Spaugh said she was notified that her account information had been compromised. She said she feels lucky it was caught before any money was stolen.

"I'm relieved that no money was taken out of my account. It just let's me know I need to check my bank statements very carefully every time they come out," Spaugh said.

In addition to monitoring bank statements, officials urged customers to take the following steps to avoid skimmers:

  • Closely examine card slots on ATMs and gas pumps to make sure nothing appears to be attached to the front of them.
  • Do not use an ATM or gas pump if the card reader appears to be added on, to fit poorly or to be loose.
  • Avoid device instructions that say things like "Swipe Here First" or “Use This Machine Only.”
  • If something does not look right, use another ATM or gas pump.
  • Always cover the keypad as you're entering your PIN in case a hidden camera is nearby.
  • Never accept "help" from anybody at an ATM.
  • Immediately call the customer service number on the ATM if a machine keeps your card, appears suspicious or does not function properly.