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One Step Ahead:These Readers Aren’t Fortune Tellers, They’re Fortune Stealers
March 15, 2011, Volume 57, No. 25

One Step Ahead

Another tip in a series provided by the Offices of Information Systems & Computing and Audit, Compliance & Privacy.

These Readers Aren’t Fortune Tellers, They’re Fortune Stealers

We’ve dealt in previous tips with the ongoing problem of “skimmers” and other devices attached to automated teller machines (ATMs). These devices collect not only the information on the magnetic stripes of cards inserted into the machine, but also the PIN numbers entered by the user. The technology has evolved to the point where the thieves often retrieve the stolen data remotely via wireless network, or even text messages sent to their cell phones. A full discussion is beyond the space available here, but an excellent recap by renowned security expert Brian Krebs can be found at krebsonsecurity.com/all-about-skimmers/

There are a couple of recent developments that are worth highlighting:

• While it’s still a good general practice to use ATM machines located at bank branches, there have been instances where the machines are located in small rooms or vestibules where—especially outside of normal business hours—access is granted via a card reader on the door; the reader requires the same card as the ATM, and “skimming” devices have been found on the door devices instead of the ATMs. In the case of a bank branch in Sherman Oaks, California, this was found to have occurred nine times in 2009 alone. So keep in mind that any device that requires reading your card carries a “skimming” risk.

• Also, surreptitious card readers are being found with increasing frequency on gas pumps, and these are even harder to spot due to the fact that the thieves have often managed to open the pump and “hard-wire” the devices. Then, as happened in the Denver area in 2010, the thieves sometimes try to “pump up” their take by calling people at random, posing as businesses and offering gift cards for filling up at the stations they’ve infiltrated.

Be vigilant, but the key piece of advice in coping with “skimming” remains always check your account statements as soon as they arrive, particularly those for debit cards. There are different liability standards imposed for debit cards than for credit cards, and if you delay reporting theft from a debit account, you risk losing the entire amount stolen.


For additional tips, see the One Step Ahead link on the Information Security website: www.upenn.edu/computing/security

Almanac - March 15, 2011, Volume 57, No. 25