San Mateo out to stop ‘skimming’

Chris Feasel has been a victim of identity theft twice.

But that doesn’t stop the San Mateo deputy district attorney from going to the ATM or filling up at a gas station. Instead, he says he is more careful.

Also, he said will continue to prosecute any person suspected of stealing people’s identity through nefarious schemes as best he can.

“The more people we can prosecute, the less people there are on the streets doing this,” Feasel said.

On March 22, Feasel will meet Marcel Young in court. Young is accused of possessing credit card information obtained from more than 1,000 people. Young is charged with several felony counts of unlawful possession of 10 or more people’s identities.
Though authorities are not certain of the method Young used to obtain the credit card information, Feasel said a form of identity theft — known as “skimming” — is becoming increasingly common.

“It can be run a number of ways,” Feasel said. “You just run your card through the machine, but if you’re paying attention, it’s easy to tell.”

Skimming occurs when a device is placed over an area where you swipe your card — such as an ATM or credit card reader at a gas station — and reads your account information, including account number and PIN, electronically.

The device does not interfere with your transactions, therefore it is unknown if you have been a victim until strange activity appears on the account.

Detective Glen Teixeira of the San Mateo Police Department said someone with access to keys to the PIN pad can install one of these devices in as little as 20 seconds.

“It’s like Lego pieces,” he said. “It just snaps together if they have the ability to gain access.”

Teixeira and the police are in search of a number of suspects involved in stealing debit card and PIN numbers from an Arco gas station on Delaware Street.

As many as 80 people or more have reported the theft of debit card numbers.

“It was the only place in common,” Teixeira said. “And it was debit cards simply because Arco accepts debit cards.”

Two of the 20 pumps at the gas station were affected, Teixeira said. Information began being obtained on or around Dec. 3, 2009, he said.

Teixeira said as far as he knows, Arco employees and the corporation are not involved in the scheme.

An estimated 10.1 million adults were the victims of identity theft and fraud in 2009 — a 22 percent increase from the previous year — according to Javelin Strategy & Research.

Teixeira said the Internet and wireless devices are making it easier for criminals to obtain account information.

“They used to have to go back to the machine to get the information,” Teixeira said. “Now, with Bluetooth and wireless, they can leave it attached and collect the data remotely.”

Teixeira and Feasel reported an increase in their caseloads on identity theft.

“More people know what it is and what to look for,” Feasel said.

Recognizing a scam

To reduce or minimize the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft or fraud, there are some basic steps you can take. For starters, just remember the word “scam”:

Stingy: Don’t give out your personal information to others unless you have a reason to trust them, regardless of where you are.

Check your financial information regularly, and look for what should be there and what shouldn’t.

Ask periodically for a copy of your credit report.

Maintain careful records of your banking and financial accounts.

Source: U.S. Department of Justice

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