Crooks bank on ATM skimmers

NUTLEY —

Nutley police, who have been warning residents about skimming devices being placed on ATMs throughout New Jersey, last week discovered one at a local 7-Eleven.

On Sunday, Feb. 21, the NPD responded to the store on Passaic Ave. and recovered a skimmer attached to its ATM, Det. Sgt. Anthony Montanari reported.

Where there’s one in a town, there might be more, so in response the police having been handing out flyers at all local ATM locations in Nutley advising the business proprietors about the devices and urging them to regularly check their machines.

They are also advising ATM users to be vigilant.

The skimmer, Montanari explained, is a sophisticated electronic device that is placed over the existing machine card slot. When a user swipes a card, the skimmer “reads” the account information, allowing a thief to subsequently access that account and withdraw funds.

Blocking the keypad from view when you type in your access code, as is often advised, does not prevent the crime, he said.

Montanari provided the following information about how the criminals, and the skimmers, work:

One actor distracts a store employee while the other takes a few minutes to place the plastic device over the card reader. The  device, which looks very much like a part of the machine, is retrofitted with electronics that videotape transactions through a pinhole camera.

It is powered by two or three cellular phone batteries attached to the back side of a plastic frame. Another device is placed over the actual slot where card is inserted. Collectively the device captures the transaction numbers and personal password and account numbers.

The device contains a small micro SIM card that stores all transactions over the course of a day, until the actors return to remove the device.  Some devices have Bluetooth technology that can retrieve data without entering the establishment.

Nutley Police Chief Thomas Strumolo noted that, once a skimmer is installed, it requires a trained eye or someone who is familiar with the device to identify it.

He said that once identity and account information are stolen, charges can appear from virtually anywhere. It is difficult to trace the location from which the information was stolen. [Last week’s police blotter cited a Nutley ATM user who contacted his bank when he was unable to withdraw $20 via the machine and who learned that someone had taken money from his account through a bank in Queens.]

One precaution ATM users can take is to grab the plastic covering around the card-insert slot to see if it is secure and actually part of the machine. If it is loose-fitting or something otherwise seems amiss, do not insert your card and alert store/bank management — and the police — immediately.

Mayor and Police Director Alphonse Petracco reported that there have been several arrests in Union County and dozens of card readers recovered. Many victims are unaware they have been victimized until their bank statement arrives, and they could be out thousands of dollars before the theft is realized.

Montanari advised that the electronics found at the 7-Eleven are being sent for forensic investigation in an effort to determine the identity of possible victims.

Karen Zautyk | Observer Correspondent