High-tech identity theft today

LVMPD Detective Kim Thomas
LVMPD Detective Kim Thomas

…¢ Identity theft is now the number one crime in the world.
…¢ Las Vegas is number one in the U.S. for ID theft; even though it’s estimated that only 20% of the crimes are reported.
…¢ The FBI estimates that seven out of every ten stolen dollars end up in Las Vegas. There’s more money in Vegas than most places. Hence Vegas’s place at the top of the ID theft heap.

These wispy facts were spit out by Las Vegas Metro Police Department Forgery Detail’s Detective Kim Thomas at the start of his recent identity theft presentation. Then he got to the scary stuff.

I recently wrote about “profiles,” the findable bits of personal information about an individual. A utility bill constitutes a profile, though not as good of one as a loan application. Envelopes, receipts, statements, are others.

Detective Thomas emphasized the importance of shredding all documents before discarding them. Then he pointed out how something as simple as a discarded box can trigger both a burglary and ID theft. He gave the example of a resident getting a new plasma tv. A trawling thief spots the box at the curb on trash day. He watches the house and notes when it’s unoccupied. Then he steals a truck, kicks in the front door (that’s how they break in nowadays, Det. Thomas explained; no finesse involved), grabs the tv—and the pile of bills in the kitchen at the same time. “Even a box has value to someone,” he said. “Cut it up.”

We can shred.

We can break down our discarded boxes, or take them to dumpsters.

We cannot control how businesses store and discard our data. (My own little example: I went to a health clinic where patients are given forms on clipboards to fill out and return to the desk. When I returned to the unattended desk with my completed forms, I stood staring at other patients’ medical histories and Social Security numbers on the clipboards they’d left on the desk as instructed.)

Credit card data skimmer: the size of a Bic lighter.
Credit card data skimmer: the size of a Bic lighter.

But here’s the big thing now: skimmers. Wait! You think you know, but I’m about to describe the very latest in skimmers; not the deck-of-cards-sized box in a waitress’s apron, not the big old multi-part plastic set-ups of yesterday stuck onto ATMs. If you’re not sure exactly what a skimmer is, read the three little paragraphs of my previous post. In the old days (not very long ago), waiters and store clerks were given skimmers to swipe credit cards through and they were paid for the data they collected. But a waiter might talk if caught. A store clerk will be watched if suspected, leading police to the skim-master. And how many cards can they skim in a day, anyway?

Skimmer with keypad taken off ATM.
Skimmer with keypad taken off ATM.

Old news: nowadays, skimmers are attached to the fronts of ATMs and gas pumps. Yeah, we know. But you probably don’t know how impressive the latest version is. It’s tiny: 3.5 inches long, by a half inch by a quarter inch. It’s almost impossible to detect. It contains batteries charged by an induction plate and stores data on a camera memory card. It attaches to a thin number pad overlay to capture PINs, and as a secondary method, also has a motion-activated video camera (jury-rigged from a high-end mobile phone) which is time-tagged to match up with the right credit card info. It has a bluetooth transmitter that allows remote, anonymous downloads, which means the skim-master doesn’t have to go near the scene of the crime, once the thing is installed.

About 40 of these tiny self-contained data-collectors have been recovered in Las Vegas in the past month. Probably more by now. Certainly more still out there, too.

Where do you get your gas?

Skimmer (somewhere) inside a gas pump.
Skimmer (somewhere) inside a gas pump.

Yes, they’re still stuck onto the fronts of ATMs. But they’re also put inside gas pumps. How do you open a gas pump? Use the same key that opens an RV storage locker, five bucks online. LVMPD found that one of these skimmers can be installed in eight minutes flat. Which, they figure, means the skim-master can probably do it in seven.

Edited 3/15/10 to add: Detective Kim Thomas explains how skimmers are hidden inside gas pumps in about 11 seconds. Yes, 11 seconds!

Yes, there’s more to tell.
© Copyright 2008-2009 Bambi Vincent. All rights reserved.

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  • Here is my story which just happened to me in “Paradise”
    I am still in shock with little hope.
    This happened in Panama. Please read on..

    This is Randolph Michael Muscarella

    Below are the illegal transaction on my account.

    Ok here is what happen on the 18th of Aug I received $55,409 in my account from a wire transfer and then starting on Aug 31st someone with a forge passport went into all the branches of Banco Universal in Panama City and in 3 days took all my money. The only ones that knew of the bank wire was Banco Universal and the buyers. I told no one else. You can see on my online statement that I had very little money in this account before the wire transfer and also
    Banco Universal gave out all my $53,000 in just 3 days and no one at the bank questioned my signature or asked this person who was a impostor of me to talk to a manager. Now in the country of Panama almost every bank does not scan a copy of your photo for the bank tellers to see. They only go by your signature and ID number. Which means anyone that has your account number can go in with a forge Passport and take out all your money. And that happened to me im Panama less than 2 weeks ago.It get worst thiswas my life savings.

    The manager who I talked to in Panama city was a Mr. Fabrega his phone numbers are 214-2185 and 214-2184. This manager admitted to me on the phone that he was aware that a person came in pretending to be me and he felt sorry and is investigating the matter ha! This manager told me that unless it can be proven it was a inside job their issurance would not cover my loss and they will not return my money!
    As you can see by my account statement below this happened in all 3 branches on the same day for 3 straight days in a row. Never was this person questioned or asked to see a bank manager. Never was I call on the phone to question the large amounts taken out on the same day for 3 days. Nothing at all

    I was more than shocked at this that these thieves were able to do this with my bank Banco Universal.
    I was currently out of the country when this crime happened and I heard that in Panama they target foregieners who have accounts in Panama but are not in the country to do anything right away when they catch it on their account.
    Now I will be in Panama with no money left not even enough to fly back home to the US.
    I have 2 lawyers that are helping and allowing me to pay when or if I get my money back. Aslo a PI is helping but still I have little hope even though this is outright bank fraud down here in Panama it is almost impossible to get your money back. The worst part is I will be left alone in a foregien country with nothing! To make matters much worse I sold my home here on Margarita Island because my Mom is very ill she just has her 3rd MRI and does not look good. $40,000 which is a large part of money from my house sale was going to help here with aftercare which her insurance will not cover. I am so sick over this that a bank can give all my money away to the wrong person and not return it to me.

    Take a look at my bank statement and see how this bank gave away all my money. Retiro means withdrawl from $56,000 to $2,400 in 3 days.

    If there is anyone that has good connections in Panama please let me know Iam so depressed.

    My life was taken awy from me.

    Información General image
    Nombre: RANDOLPH MICHAEL MUSCARELLA Fecha: 07 Sep 2009
    Cuenta: xxxxxxxxxxxxxx Hora: 08:53:47
    Saldo: $2,437.75
    Importe Retenido: $.00
    Saldo Disponible: $2,437.75

    Fecha Transacción débito crédito Saldo
    01 ago 2009 Saldo Anterior

    55,409.08 55,563.26
    29 ago 2009 INTERESES
    74.49 55,637.75
    31 ago 2009 RETIRO 5,000.00
    31 ago 2009 RETIRO 7,000.00
    31 ago 2009 RETIRO 7,000.00
    01 sep 2009 RETIRO 6,000.00
    01 sep 2009 RETIRO 6,500.00
    01 sep 2009 RETIRO 6,700.00
    03 sep 2009 RETIRO 7,500.00
    03 sep 2009 RETIRO 7,500.00
    07 sep 2009 Saldo a las 08:55 AM


  • I belive it’s becoming increasingly difficult to fight credit card fraud/identity theft nowadays. All that is required is a simple piece of information and hey presto you got a new identity! And i hear the skimmers are planted by experienced professional gang’s is this true?


  • astounding! Here’s my own tale.. Went to a bank, sat in the waiting area. Heard the banker talking to an older lady. Asking her all the important info to set up a cd. And repeating every word out loud. We heard her address, ssn, acct # etc. Got up, told the banker we saw a privacy invasion, and left. He didn’t care. Got home, I called corp. office, got to some high level guy, told him my story. He didn’t care either. His only comment, we’ll look into it. Easy low tech way for a crook to collect info.

  • You’re right, Terry, the small skimmer in the photo is not the tiny, 3.5″ x .5″ x .25″ one described. The “Bic-lighter” sized one is also new, taken from the apron of a waiter. The one I did not show, but described, is one that fits on the front of an ATM. Want a photo of that one? Okay! In the next installment.

  • The object shown next to the tape measure isn’t the latest generation? It’s not 1/2″ or 1/4″, looks more like 3/4″ – or is that an optical effect?

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