Florida's dubious distinction as the number one state in the US for identity theft is unfortunately well-earned. The number of cases of identity theft reported here each year dwarfs the number of reports filed in most other states, and generally has a significant lead over whichever state holds the number 2 position. In South Florida alone there was an increase from 184 cases of identity theft reported per 100,000 residents to 324 cases per 100,000 residents between 2010 and 2011.
Those of us who live in Florida have been reading a number of recent news stories
reporting on a rash ongoing identity theft threats, however, skimming devices have been found attached to devices throughout the country. These stories should serve as a reminder of how important it is to stay up-to-date on the latest techniques identity thieves use when trying to gain access to your money.
You might have heard about the ATM thefts at Publix stores in the area; a group of criminals, including an individual described as a "beer-bellied man wearing loud beach shorts," have been installing devices over the card slots of the Presto ATM's located at supermarket locations along Florida's east coast. These types of skimming devices are designed to look like part of the ATM and when attached, they scan the information on any credit or debit card that is used at the machine, giving the thieves access to the card numbers of any card that is swiped. In some instances where these devices have been found police found a pinhole-sized camera mounted, allowing the thieves to capture PIN numbers as people make withdrawals or perform other transactions.
Publix Supermarkets in Florida
are just the latest ATM's to get hit. Police believe a pattern appears to be developing, where the id theft ring has been working their way north from Miami-Dade County up the coast to Broward, Palm Beach, Daytona and beyond.
ATMs aren't the only place to be watchful, though. In fact, gas station pumps are especially vulnerable, because they weren't designed with security in mind. Most pumps, for example, can be opened with the exact same key. This makes them a sitting target for thieves who can open the pump and insert the credit card skimmer without leaving any outward sign that the pump has been tampered with.
So now that you know tech-savvy fraudsters and ID theft can strike out of nowhere, what can you do about it? It's been said that the best defense is a killer offense, and that's exactly what you need to defend yourself against identity thieves and con-artists!
While the equipment and techniques used by credit card skimmers is getting more sophisticated, there are ways to protect yourself and your bank account. Here are a few quick tips to help;
- Wiggle the card reader and make sure that it's securely attached to the ATM. If it gives, it may not be a legitimate piece of the machine. Use another ATM, and report the machine to the local police so they can check it out.
- Check for glue on the face of the machine, and look for plastic overlays over keypads. If you find glue or glue residue around the corners, avoid that ATM and report it.
- Choose ATMs inside a bank It's harder for a thief to access a supervised machine to attach the skimming equipment.
- Cover the keypad when entering your PIN. Simply cupping your other hand over the keypad can prevent a camera from capturing your PIN.
- Check your bank and credit card statements carefully to spot anything out of the ordinary, and report them immediately to your bank or Credit Card Company.
- Be proactive in checking your accounts, either online or when your statements come in; the more often you check credit card and bank account balances, the sooner you'll be able to recognize fraudulent charges.
- Check your credit reports at least once per year as well as this will help you to identify accounts that were opened in your name; you can obtain all three credit reports three times per year for free through AnnualCreditReport.com. If you spot something questionable, contact your bank immediately and ask that a hold be put on your account and that compromised cards be cancelled.
- Report any known fraud or theft to your local police department, the Federal Trade Commission
- Contact the credit bureaus to report any suspected fraud and request either a free fraud alert or a full credit freeze. Find more info on these options, and then choose the one that best fits your current needs.
If you want add another layer of protection, you might be interested in an id theft protection or credit monitoring service--though, I caution you; before spending your money, take the time to review your options and make an informed decision that is based on your needs --not their self-promotional ads. Many of these services require a monthly fee, though some services, such as AllClearID and CreditKarma, offer free versions of their services, similar to the way many antivirus companies offer free versions of their paid antivirus software. While these free services may not offer the insurance coverage and some of the other perks of the paid service, they do monitor online activity, assist with credit monitoring and can significantly speed up the process of recovering from identity theft. Knowledge really is power! Don't be scared, be prepared. The more you know the less likely you will fall victim to fraud.