BY MELANIE WADE –
Polk County consumers have been hit with a scam that has affected hundreds of bank accounts so far and investigations are still continuing. Mena Police Chief Brandon Martin said ‘gas pump skimmers’ were found at Mena’s Exxon/Wendy’s station on two different pumps on Thursday, November 30, 2017. The devices were found after law enforcement were alerted by several citizens and local banks that bank accounts had been compromised.
‘Gas pump skimmers’ are not a relatively new concept, but they are normally found in larger, metropolitan areas. However, the suspect in this case not only placed the skimmers, but also attempted to use the data he retrieved at local ATM machines. The suspect can be seen in a video posted on the Mena Police Department’s Facebook page at a local ATM. The same suspect has also been caught on camera attempting the same scam in Texarkana. To find the devices, Martin said they found the common denominator in the victim’s accounts were purchases at the local Exxon station.
The devices are relatively easy to use. Martin said, “They open up the pump doors, plug the device into the pump, and it is then set to capture the card’s information.” That information is then cloned and either sent via Bluetooth or text message to the thief, who then makes a fake debit card or uses the information online to make purchases.
Martin said they have contacted the Secret Service about the local case and said they have been working similar cases across the United States. “It’s a nationwide thing right now,” said Martin. He also said that if you find yourself to be a victim of this, or any other scam, contact your bank and the police department immediately.
Martin urges citizens to protect their data as much as possible. “Try to pay inside, pull on the device [pump card reader] and make sure there is not something on top of the card reader, especially on the gas pumps. There’s sometimes a seal on the readers; make sure it’s not broken.”
The Union Bank of Mena responded quickly to the outbreak. In a statement released to the Pulse, bank officials said, “In an effort to protect our customers against recent debit card fraud in our area we have made an effort to determine who has potentially been impacted. Our efforts include blocking activity in locations where fraud is occurring and personally calling customers who may have been impacted. Our goal is to always protect our customers first and our customers have responded quickly to our calls. We are grateful for our local law enforcement and staff who have worked diligently to circumvent this activity. If you are concerned about the integrity of your debit card please contact us at 479-394-2211.”
Union Bank also shared some tips to keep your information safe:
- Some skimmers use blue tooth technology. If you have a smartphone check for unusual blue tooth devices that are available when using your debit card.
- Update your contact information with your financial institution. Your bank can’t ask you about a suspicious charge unless it has your current phone number.
- Copy the customer service phone number from the back of each of your debit or credit cards and keep this list in a separate location from your purse or wallet in case a thief steals the latter.
- Let issuers know your travel dates and destination. If your card gets swiped at an unusual location, the card issuer may decline the suspicious transaction.
- Sign up for banking alerts if offered by your financial institution. These will inform you when particular changes occur, such as irregular card activity.
- Stay away from ATMs that appear dirty or in disrepair. At best, such ATMs may not work when used, and at worst, may be fake machines set up to capture card information.
- Do not use ATMs with unusual signage, such as a command to enter your PIN twice to complete a transaction.
- Watch out for ATMs that appear to have been altered. If anything on the front of the machine looks crooked, loose or damaged, it could be a sign that someone attached a skimming device.
- Avoid using the ATM if suspicious individuals are standing nearby. Criminals may try to distract you as you use the machine to steal your cash, or watch as you type your PIN.
- Be aware that if your card gets stuck in the machine and someone approaches to help, it may be a scam. A criminal may be trying to watch as you enter your PIN code.
- If your card gets stuck in the machine, call your financial institution promptly to report the incident.
- As you key in your PIN, cover the keypad with your other hand to block anyone, or a camera, from viewing the numbers you type.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office has dealt with this type of scam for several months. Her advice is: “If at all possible, do not let your credit or debit card out of your sight. Take notice of your surroundings. If an ATM or fuel pump looks as if it is been tampered with, do not use it and notify the owner or management. Always review your account statements for any suspicious activity. If you detect an unauthorized charge, notify your financial institution as soon as possible. Timely reporting of an unauthorized charge will mitigate your liability.”
For more information on how to protect your data, contact your bank, local law enforcement, or the Attorney General’s website, www.arkansasag.gov.