…¢ 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.)
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?
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?
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.