On Monday afternoon, an ATM outside of the Bridgehampton National Bank in Hampton Bays was nearly ignored by everyone who walked past.
Just a week earlier, it was notorious. Southampton Town Police said the ATM was discovered to have been targeted by thieves, who installed a skimming device that can be used to steal personal information from the magnetic strips of bank and debit cards. A photograph of the device provided by police showed an electronic reader hidden inside the card slot. Nearby was a tiny hole—where a camera could have been used to steal the PINs of customers as they punched them in.
After finding out about the recent discovery, one passerby, Joseph Ruggieri of Hampton Bays, said on Tuesday, “I would expect the bank to be on high alert.”
And it was.
According to James Manseau, the head of retail banking at Bridgehampton National Bank, the skimmer had been discovered the same day that it had been attached to the machine, and the bank was able to limit the damage to customers. “In the Hampton Bays incident, there were two cards compromised, but we found it in time to prevent any loss,” he said.
At Bridgehampton National Bank, crews check machines daily, Mr. Manseau said, but over the weekend it can easily be overlooked. He said that criminals who put skimmers in place will typically attach one on Friday night and remove it late Sunday—to catch the weekend ATM traffic without a bank realizing.
Anita Nigrel, the executive vice president and chief retail officer at Suffolk County National Bank, said skimmers are an issue, and SCNB has had some challenges with them recently. At one of the branches, a customer noticed that the person in front of them at the ATM was taking a long time. When that person was done, the customer noticed something strange with the machine and told bank management. It turned out, Ms. Nigrel said, that a skimmer had been installed using an adhesive.
In that particular case, the skimmer looked exactly like a standard ATM card reader—it was green and, like the device at the BNB machine in Hampton Bays, had a small pinhole where a camera could read the PIN as it was entered on the keypad. In other cases, Ms. Nigrel said, the skimmer devices discovered have been gray in color.
Anne Case, a spokesperson for Bank of America, said when a skimmer is placed on an ATM, the machine itself often will look different. “It will be bulkier than normal,” she said on Monday. “They put a device on top of the actual place where you put the ATM card into. It should be somewhat obvious.”
Mr. Manseau recommended that customers look closely at an ATM before putting a card into the slot. If something looks out of the ordinary, or like it is not part of the machine, the customer should walk away and, if possible, say something to a teller.
“If you insert your card and it’s not a smooth insert and removal, my advice would be to not use the machine,” he said.
There are some other things people can look for before using an ATM machine.
Ms. Nigrel said to jiggle the card reader before inserting a card to see if it is loose, and be aware of the surroundings. But one precaution stood out from the rest: She said that customers should always—always—cover the keypad with one hand when entering a PIN with the other. “They need that PIN,” she stressed.
Sometimes, thieves will put a strip at the top of the machine, near the ATM’s lighting, and since most people look forward while using the machine, Ms. Nigrel said, they don’t notice a camera near the top of the unit.
She explained that if a thief has both the card number and the PIN, they can then have another identical card created and go to an ATM somewhere else, sometimes miles away, to use it. Ms. Nigrel said, typically, the first transaction is a balance inquiry, along with a look at the daily limit for withdrawals. Once the thief has that, they will use the card to continue to withdraw money until they reach that limit or max out the account.
“These people are really professional in what they do,” she said.
Numbers for the amount of loss to ATM skimmers nationally are hard to come by, but the U.S. Secret Service announced nearly a decade ago that the practice amounted to at least $1 billion in losses a year—and bank security firms say the number of criminal incidents has been increasing rapidly in recent years.
If customer does become a victim to a skimming scam, banks want them to know that their money is protected.
Bank of America, Ms. Case said, offers what they call $0 Liability Protection, which protects customers who are victims of fraud, and gives them a full refund of any money that was stolen.
Mr. Manseau echoed Ms. Case, saying, “Their money is good.” He said anytime there has been any type of issue with skimmers, BNB has refunded the money to the account holder—and the same goes for most banks.
Ms. Nigrel said if a customer goes into a branch and points out a suspicious charge, bank officials will look at the film from that ATM and find out when the device was installed. Then, they find out whose cards were compromised in that time period, contact the customers, and issue them new cards as well as full refunds of the money they lost. She said some banks wait seven to 10 business days to issue the refund, but SCNB issues it “right away.”
Some of the newer ATMs that BNB uses have anti-skimming technology that senses when something is not right, Mr. Manseau said. If a machine gets compromised, like the one last week, he said, they immediately start investigating the incident once they find out about it. “If we become aware, we look at every card that used that machine from start to finish of the skimmer,” he said. “Then we notify [the customers] and get them new cards.”
“We have some new ATMs with anti-skimming devices on them, and that has helped,” Ms. Nigrel agreed on Tuesday. She explained that the anti-skimming device forces a machine to automatically shut down when it has been tampered with.
Skimmers can also be attached to card readers in other places, such as at gas stations offering customers the chance to pay at the pump.
The National Association of Convenience Stores website said that fuel dispensers are “attractive targets for thieves looking to steal credit and debit card information by ‘skimming.’”
In these cases, the skimmer is installed either outside or inside the pump. Those on the outside, the NACS website said, are placed over the keypad and match up with the buttons of the actual keypad, and transmits the PIN wirelessly.