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Wednesday, December 12 , 2018, 2:56 am | Fair 45º


Data-Skimming Devices Found Attached to ATM Machines in Lompoc, Santa Maria

CoastHills Credit Union customer reports suspicious tool, prompting inspections that turn up compromised entry slots

Electronic data-skimming devices, like those found Saturday at CoastHills Credit Union locations in Lompoc and Santa Maria, typically record personal information from the card’s magnetic strip when it’s entered into the slot.
Electronic data-skimming devices, like those found Saturday at CoastHills Credit Union locations in Lompoc and Santa Maria, typically record personal information from the card’s magnetic strip when it’s entered into the slot. (Santa Maria Police Department photo)

Data-skimming devices used to try to access bank accounts were found at CoastHills Credit Union branches in Santa Maria and Lompoc on Saturday, leading authorities to remind ATM customers to be cautious.

Santa Maria police Sgt. Jesus Valle said a customer notified staff at the CoastHills branch at 1203 S. Broadway about suspicious irregularities of a card reader at a drive-up ATM. The customer reported that the device had an unusual appearance and was not functioning properly.

After the Santa Maria incident, a CoastHills facilities manager checked the credit union’s other ATMs and discovered electronic skimming devices at drive-up machines at the Lompoc branch at 1320 N. H St. Lompoc police were notified.

The Santa Maria office of the FBI will investigate both incidents, authorities said Sunday.

CoastHills posted a statement on its website, noting the discoveries and involvement of police.

“We have notified law enforcement and we are working with them to determine if there has been any member card information compromised,” the statement said. “There are currently no restrictions on card transactions. We will notify affected members if their card information has been compromised.

“We appreciate our members and your financial security is our top priority.”

As of Monday, Lompoc police Sgt. Kevin Martin said his department had received 20 reports of fraudulent activity on local residents' CoastHills accounts.

Authorities released a surveillance photograph of a data-skimming suspect. Click to view larger
Authorities released a surveillance photograph of a data-skimming suspect.  (Contributed photo)

The illegal skimmers likely were installed early Friday morning, a CoastHills official said.

In response, CoastHills has taken security measures to suspend usage of any member ATM card used at the Santa Maria drive-up machine all day Sept. 11 and up to 11 a.m. on Sept. 12, and at the Lompoc drive-up machine all day Sept. 11 and up to 2 p.m. on Sept. 12. 

Credit union officials said Monday customers won't be responsible for any fraudulent transactions under the zero liability policy.

The facility was handing out “Instant Issue” cards to affected members. Instant issue cards will allow members to immediately access their accounts using the new card and PIN.

“We are partnering with law enforcement to fully resolve the issue, including the FBI, who told us that this type of sophisticated skimming device is new territory to them,” said Paul Cook, CoastHills chief information officer. 

CoastHills provided local police department investigators with surveillance videos from both locations, which included an image of the suspects. 

Data-skimming devices contain hidden electronics used to steal the personal information stored on ATM, bank and credit cards. By recording the PIN number a customer types in on the key pad, thieves can gain access to a financial account.

They typically use two components to steal the data.

The first part involves a card reader installed over the ATM’s real card slot. When a card is inserted into the ATM, it slides through the counterfeit reader, which scans and stores all the information on the magnetic strip.

To gain full access to a bank account on an ATM, the suspects may still need the PIN number, so a small hidden camera or fake keypad is used to record all PIN action.

Like the skimmers, the counterfeit equipment is designed to mimic the real keypad design and fit directly over it.

To avoid falling victim to skimmers, authorities urge customers to take precautions, including:

» Inspect the ATM, gas pump or credit-card reader before using it. Be suspicious if you see anything loose, crooked or damaged, or if you notice scratches or adhesive/tape residue.

» Always pay attention to objects mounted on the ATM or located close by. A pinhole or off-color piece of plastic could give away the camera's hiding place. Cameras could even be hidden in brochure racks.

» If you notice that the keypad on your ATM seems to protrude oddly from the surface around it, or if you notice an odd color change between the pad and the rest of the ATM, it could be a fake.

» When entering your PIN, block the keypad with your other hand to prevent possible hidden cameras or people from recording your number.

» If possible, use an ATM at an inside location. It’s not as easy for criminals to access those machines to install skimmers.

» Be careful of ATMs in tourist areas; they are a popular target of skimmers.

» If your card isn’t returned after the transaction or after hitting “cancel,” immediately contact the financial institution that issued the card.

Thieves also often install skimmers at gas station pumps. Last month, the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department announced that Operation Take Back the Pumps inspections of 1,582 fuel pumps at 184 gas stations turned up three illegal skimmers in Thousand Oaks.

Losses from a single illegal skimming device on a fuel pump usually averages between $50,000 and $100,000, Ventura County authorities said.

To avoid falling victim to fuel pump skimmers, customers should follow similar steps as ATM users: 

» Pay with cash whenever possible.

» Go inside the gas station to pay instead of paying at the pump.

» Look for security seals/stickers on fuel pumps. If the seals/stickers are broken, cut or read VOID, do not use that pump and immediately report your observations to gas station personnel.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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