Be Safe This Holiday Season: Guarding Against Skimming

By Diane M. Loeffler


Doesn’t it seem like every day you hear something about someone trying to illegally get ahold of other people’s money? Skimming is one of the ways they try to do that. Skimming is defined as a method used by criminals to capture data from the magnetic stripe on the back of a credit card, ATM card, debit card or other transaction card. It was the primary topic of Deputy Merry’s seminars in September and October, and it remains a VERY timely topic during the holiday shopping season.

Alex Bailey, a detective in the economics crime division, and Raymond R. Klaus, Jr., a Civilian Investigator who works with the sheriff’s office for economic crime, were also on hand to address questions and concerns.


How the Criminals Capture Your Information

Typically, a device is placed on an ATM, gas station pump, or a point of service terminal. Some are “deep inserts” that are placed well within machines or gas pumps that are not equipped with chip readers. Merry says, “Because the technology and software needed for chip reading is expensive, gas stations were given a deadline of 2020 to make the conversion to that technology. Skimmers are extremely prevalent and problematic in the Miami area and then began showing up in the Tampa area.

Another mechanism is overlays. With this method, there is another layer on top of the pad or readers. If you notice that part of your ATM seems to be recently glued in or is loose, wiggle it a bit. If it comes off easily, it may be an overlay.

Some deep inserts and overlays require that the thieves come back and remove the mechanism. Merry showed film footage from cameras installed in convenience stores. Working in pairs, one person installed an overlay quickly while the clerk attending to the other “customer”. This took place in the middle of the day.

Other deep inserts and overlays are equipped with Bluetooth, WiFi, SMS, or cellphone technology and can be read without having to return to remove the devices. Pinhole cameras are another device employed by criminals.


How to Protect Yourself

Check to see if the gas pump seal is intact and in a place where it would be broken if someone tampered with it. Merry says, “Look for pinhole cameras. Use your fingers, if something doesn’t feel right or something moves around, don’t use it. If you notice fresh glue on part of the ATM, twist and pull it. Use ATMs only in safe places. Using a credit card is better than using a debit card. My wife was a victim of this crime when she used a debit card. Her cash was tied up for six weeks.”

Always check your debit card and credit card statements line by line. In order to make sure that the credit card information will work, criminals will often first try the card by buying something small like a drink from McDonalds. If it works, they will then proceed to make larger purchases on your card.


If You Are a Victim

Merry says, “If you are a victim, call the card issuer as soon as you realize your card has been lost, stolen, or compromised. If required, complete a fraud affidavit. Make a report with the Federal Trade Commission at If the charges were local, file a police report. You can also come into my office and make a report. The office is located right next to Sawdust Engineers.”

November’s topic will be Golf Cart rules and safety. As with all seminars, it will be offered on the second Tuesday of the month at 10:00 in the Caper Room and at 1:00 in the Ripple Room. It will also be offered the third Tuesday of the month in Freedom Plaza’s Freedom Auditorium. 


IN THE PHOTO: Raymond R. Claus, Jr. (left) a civilian investigator who works with the sheriff’s office for economic crime and Alex Bailey, a detective in the economics crime division were on hand to answer questions after Deputy Merry’s presentation.


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