I recently wrapped an investigation involving the location and recovery of a Tesla SUV purchased with stolen money. More impressive than the crook's vintage car collection were the tech-savvy credit card encoding devices that he had perfected over 2 decades of crime, especially in an era when ordering parts off of sites like Ebay, Amazon, and Craigslist were nonexistent. In 1991, his device pulled in roughly $90,000 before he got caught in Connecticut.
This level of technical skill was not commonly seen; the only ATM skimming device I remember in '91 was Terminator 2's John Connor (see above photo) using his Atari Portfolio to make an ATM spew cash.
This form of ATM hacking is actually still used today, and requires malware like Ploutus to function. Skimmers, however, are somewhat less sophisticated, and therefore easier to produce, replicate and operate.
In the next few pictures, you will see some compromised ATM terminals. Can you spot the skimming components? (Don't worry... the answers are at the bottom if you get stumped.)
1) This device has been compromised. Can you guess where the component is hidden?
2) You are at a bachelor party in Colombia & your friend gets arrested. Quick, you have to pull out some cash to bribe the guards before his fresh gringo organs are sold to local thugs! Which one do you choose, (L) or (R)?
3) Oh no! Your new puppy has peed all over your smartphone. It's fried. The store has one left, but you'll need to use their ATM first. Which one do you use, (L) or (R)?
4) You have just robbed a museum, and your Mini Cooper is loaded with gold bricks and rare Fabergé eggs. You have 5 minutes to pull out some cash and grab a nice Reuben sandwich for the long journey ahead. Which card reader do you use, (L) or (R)?
1) A small camera was planted in the brochure holder of this ATM to capture PIN number entries.
2) (L) is correct. (R) is a common skimming device that uses a nearly identical overlay affixed with double-sided tape/ adhesive.
4) (L) is correct. (R) shows a common component of skimming systems, a camera planted near the light fixture, colored to match the terminal and out of your sight line.
As soon as the clerk looks away, this card overlay skimmer gets installed in about 3 seconds.
As fast as technology can advance, there will be clever and more resourceful criminals to match it. This article's aim was simply to build your awareness, and explain how ATM skimming works at a basic, fundamental, physical level. Be mindful of your card usage, stay frosty, and always cover your pin!
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
|Dave Hartzell is Principal Investigator for Momentum, a southern California-based detective agency. An 8-year Navy veteran, he also works as a Realtor and SAG-AFTRA performer.|