Man thinks he was victim of debit card ‘skimmer,’ account hit for $3,000

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(Photo: First Bank)

BRIGHTON, Colo. — A Brighton man said a thief racked up close to $3,000 in charges on his debit account. He believes he was the target of a skimming attack. And what’s worse – he said the suspect has been shopping at stores not too far from his own neighborhood.

Dan Axtell said he started noticing money missing from his business account a couple of weeks ago, and he noticed fraudulent transactions dating back to October.

“I think I bought him a toilet for his house from Home Depot,” Axtell said.

He quickly realized someone had his debit card information, spending a total of more than $2,800.

“It looks to me like I’m helping this guy remodel his house,” Axtell said, reviewing his bank statement.

Axtell said the suspect even purchased a one-year warranty for parts from a local auto shop, providing a name – which admittedly could be a fake – but also the make and model of his vehicle.

“So we got all that information,” he said.

Axtell believes he was likely the victim of a debit card skimmer. He hopes police catch the guy, but he also wants to get the word out.

“The reason why my bank didn’t contact me sooner is because all these transactions were local,” he said. “You know, they weren’t out-of-state. They were here.”

The scam doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. Anytime you use your card – at an ATM, at the gas pump, in a vending machine, or even at a ticket kiosk – experts say you’re at risk. The skimmer reads your card and a camera captures your PIN.

Colorado’s Department of Regulatory Agencies, or DORA, shared tips to keep your personal information safe.

“Wiggle and cover” is a good practice, according to experts. Wiggle the card to make it harder for the skimmer to read, and cover your hand to block the camera as you type in your PIN.

But some skimmers are more advanced. Crooks can even place a fake keypad over the real one to get the information they need, experts said. So be wary of any keypad with a film or cover on top of it.

As for Axtell, he has this to say to thief, “Go get a damn job.”

His bank refunded the fraudulent charges. But he had to take time off work to deal with the mess.

“I could’ve been out making money for myself or for my family, you know,” he said.

Tips and resources

Here are four tips from DORA to avoid becoming a victim of a ‘skimmer’ device:

1. Check for Tampering 

At any ATM, check for signs of tampering or remote installations that don’t appear part of the machine (such as a small camera or wires that appear to be out of place). Look on the card reader and near the speakers. The keyboard should not have a film or cover on it or be more than one piece. There shouldn’t be any loose parts if you give a pull on something that protrudes, like the card reader. Even if these are in check, if something just doesn’t feel right about an ATM, don’t use it.

2. Wiggle and Cover

A good practice to get into is to wiggle your card a bit as you swipe it or push it into the reader. Skimmers reportedly have a harder time collecting the data because of the wiggle motion. You can also give a wiggle to the card reader mechanism, keypad and other parts to make sure nothing is loose. Additionally, always use a cover – your hand, your phone, a piece of paper – as you type in your PIN.

3. Use Indoor ATMs

High traffic areas with ATMs inside banks and grocery stores are typically safer than outdoor terminals. Also, the risks for skimming are higher on the weekends because criminals will install the skimmers on Saturdays or Sundays and then remove them before banks open on Monday. Be aware that today’s criminals are sophisticated and no ATM is completely safe.

4. Always Report It

Reporting suspicious activity or theft to your card issuer or bank as soon as possible is paramount to not being held liable to the amount you might lose if you fall victim to an ATM skimming attack. Most financial institutions have a zero liability policy that protect their customers, but there is still a process that needs to be followed. The sooner you report fraudulent activity the better!

“While banks take important measures to keep ATMs secure, ultimately the best practice to protect your credit and your money and avoid becoming a victim is to be informed and prepared,” said State Banking Commissioner, Chris Myklebust. “Talk to your bank about their policies regarding fraudulent transactions, including skimming. Then have a list of action items ready so that you can take charge of the situation immediately if necessary.”

Additional resource

Colorado Attorney General – Stop Fraud Colorado

How skimming works courtesy: FBI

How skimming works courtesy: FBI


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