By Tom Momberg
Credit and debit card skimmers are on the rise again in northeast Queens.
An ongoing issue in the area that previously led to arrests, electronic skimmers, small cameras or keypad overlays have now been found at a few ATM and gas station locations in the 111th Precinct.
Precinct Commanding Officer Capt. William McBride said many Baysiders have fallen victim to identity theft as a result, some with account losses of up to $7,000.
“Things are generally well in the 111th Precinct. As far as crime goes, we are down in just about every category… but there is an area in which we are having a bit of a problem, and that is in the category of grand larceny.”
The captain would not provide specific locations where the skimmers had been found, but in Bayside, a couple were found on gas station pumps on Francis Lewis Boulevard near 32nd Avenue, and another was found on an ATM machine on Bell Boulevard near 41st Avenue.
The technology for credit and debit card skimmers has improved, making them harder to spot, and even harder to trace, McBride said.
“If you don’t know better, it looks normal—they make these things very difficult to detect,” he said.
McBride gave a few tips for spotting the devices and for safeguarding one’s financial information.
Electronic skimmers look similar to regular ATM or gas pump card readers, but are placed over them and may look unusually large, curving outward rather than inward. When a bank or ATM customer places their card into the machine, the skimmer takes all of the account and card information off the magnetic strip, but the precinct said that information is often useless without a Personal Identification Number.
Either a small, often microscopic camera is placed over the keypad to record PINs or a keypad overlay is installed to pick up the PINs from the machine’s circuits.
To avoid being victim of identity theft, McBride suggests inspecting ATMs, gas pumps and credit card readers to see if anything looks unusual or damaged. Sometimes users might notice scratches, adhesive or gunk smeared over ATM cameras that allow the criminals who place the skimmers on the machines to do so without being recorded.
McBride said users should also block machines’ keypads with their hands as they enter their debit PINs to avoid having it recorded by a hidden camera.
Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb