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ATM Card Skimmer Found in the Wild

Posted April 7, 2009

Topics: Security

The first known instance of a card skimmer has been found attached to a Washington Mutual ATM. Does this signal more scams in the future, or is this just a fluke?

Credit goes to a betanews story for catching my eye; the original report was written up on The Consumerist.

The actual unit was designed to look just like a card slot.  The idea of a skimmer is to read ATM cards' magnetic strips as they go into a legit ATM, thus allowing the consumer to complete their normal transaction unaware that their card info has just been stolen by a third party. In this case the skimmer wasn't attached securely, and a customer was able to pull it off. It appears to have been attached with double-sided tape, and a USB port and small battery pack were visible on the back.  (Photos at the Consumerist article linked above.)

Will the idea catch on? It's only been a threat in theory until now (as far as we know, at least), but I wonder if a more sophisticated thief could attach a skimmer more securely so no one would notice. Then again, if it is easier to scam personal info the old-fashioned way (via the web or old school physical theft), these probably won't become too popular.

I would be interested to know how many cards were stored in its memory before it was removed, but I'm sure the bank will never report that. Presumably the ATM camera would be able to show pictures of the person who attached the device, but it wouldn't surprise me if the bank never files a police report in order to keep this quiet. All banks need right now is another reason for people to be scared to do business with them.

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