It sometimes seems as though every day brings news of a fresh way that identity thieves have found to perpetrate credit fraud. Recently, credit card skimming has become more common at American gas stations, with millions of dollars stolen from innocent victims who were just trying to fill up their tanks.
About a month ago, Cora Suggs told local news outlet WLTZ that someone used a skimmer to capture her payment information and take hundreds of dollars straight from her checking account.
"It was a shock," Suggs told the source. "I couldn't believe that something like this could happen to us."
Credit card skimming involves tricking consumers into sliding their card through a device that records their personal information. The scheme is common at ATMs, but is also popping up at gas stations. Technological innovations have made the skimmers easier for thieves to use and harder for users to spot.
Skimmers are available for anyone to purchase for around $100 online. A criminal can take one to a gas station, open a pump using a universal key and attach the skimmer to the point-of-sale slot. Once the pump has been closed and locked, the skimmer is invisible from the outside, making it impossible for gas station customers to protect themselves.
Newer skimming models are equipped with Bluetooth technology, sending your credit or debit card information directly to the criminals. Early this year, a group of 13 men were indicted on charges of stealing $2.1 million from customers by attaching Bluetooth-enabled skimmers to pumps. They targeted consumers at gas stations in Georgia, South Carolina and Texas.
"These defendants are accused of fueling the fastest growing crime in the country," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said in a press release. "Cyber-criminals and identity thieves are not limited to any geographic region, working throughout the world behind computers. In this case, the defendants are charged with stealing personal identifying information from victims in southern states, used forged bank cards on the East Coast, and withdrew stolen proceeds on the West Coast."
Indeed, the growing sophistication of identity thieves shows just how important it is to aggressively move to protect yourself against existing and evolving threats to your identity. Unfortunately, none of us can be completely sure that we have not been victimized. If you use credit, debit or ATM cards, shop online, seek medical care, attend school or have a bank account, then your identity could be stolen.
Since there is no failsafe way of preventing your information from falling into the wrong hands, it is vital that you regularly check your credit and monitor your identity. Remember that all adults in the United States are legally entitled to one free credit report per year from the three major credit bureaus - Experian, TransUnion and Equifax.
Financial experts also strongly recommend that you invest in a credit monitoring service. While such services are unable to completely guarantee your protection against identity theft, they can alert you to certain activity that may indicate fraud. When you are made aware of this activity, you can help protect against anyone opening further lines of credit and stop the criminals in their tracks, limiting the long-term damage that they can inflict on your good name.