By Jeff Stacklin, Yahoo! Local Editor
A pair of international ATM "skimmers" has been arrested in Chicago, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.
It's a crime that's gotten the attention of local and federal authorities, especially as more and more people regularly use credit and debit cards for daily purchases.
File photo: woman at ATM (ThinkStock)
Police believe the two men, identified as Negru Raul, 25, and Vasile Dobos, 23, are part of a Romanian financial-crime cell, according to the newspaper. They are charged with felony identity fraud and are being held on immigration detainers.
Thus far, 16 victims have been identified, and $7,000 has been recovered along with more than 200 gifts cards. The total theft could reach $50,000.
The Sun-Times notes that while police were arresting Raul and Dobos on Monday, other thieves hit a downtown ATM, but officers were not able to catch them.
The FBI reports that "ATM skimming is a favorite activity of Eurasian crime groups." Thus, the bureau often partners with the U.S. Secret Service, which typically investigates bank and wire fraud cases, as part of organized crime cases.
How "skimming" works
ATM skimmers typically install their card-reading devices on the facade of a bank machine, according to the FBI. The device usually blends in with the ATM, making it hard to notice by typical bank machine customers.
An ATM customer unsuspectingly inserts a card into the machine, and both the ATM and the skimming device read the card data stored on its magnetic strip. The skimmer either stores the customer's personal financial data to be retrieved later by thieves or it is wirelessly transmitted to nearby criminals.
The thieves, however, must have the customer's personal identification number in addition to the data on the card. Typically, thieves will install a hidden camera on or near the bank machine to record a customer keying in a PIN.
Thieves download the data skimmed from a customer's ATM card onto the magnetic strip of a blank gift card, and then take the card to another ATM, use the PIN, and access a customer's account, usually withdrawing the maximum amount of cash.
How to protect yourself, your data, and your money
Consumers can protect themselves from ATM skimmers by taking a few steps. The Secret Service encourages credit and debit card users to be vigilant, taking note of the machines and places they use their cards.
The agency suggests not using an ATM that appears damaged or scratched, and, if possible, to use an indoor ATM. When using a card at a store, watch the clerk to ensure the card is swiped once and in a proper cash register device.
Lastly, conceal your fingertips and the ATM keypad as you input your PIN.