Credit card skimmers showing up at Walmarts in Central New York and Southern Tier

State Police in at least three of its Troops in Central New York and the Southern Tier have issued alerts in regard to three suspects who have targeted Walmart customers in an attempt to skim personal information from credit cards.

The latest report by troopers comes from the Town of Erwin in Steuben County where, they say, three subjects entered the store on the morning of July 3, and secretly installed the device over an existing credit card terminal. Other incidents have been reported by Troop D headquarters at Oneida and Troop E in Canandaigua between July 2 and 5.

The suspected team, investigators say, enter the store and distract clerks as they quickly install the skimmers over existing terminals.

Some of the nearly dozen incidents reported to date have been discovered quickly, while others appear to have taken more time to be noticed.

Skimming operations
Skimming occurs, according to officers, when devices illegally installed on ATMs, point-of-sale (POS) terminals, or fuel pumps capture data or record cardholders’ PINs.

The device can look identical to a card reader at the register, such as the one shown in the photo accompanying this story, with a picture of the suspects, with the instrument even having the same logo at the top of the unit.

Thieves then will use stolen card information in different ways, troopers report, with a thief being able to make their own fake credit cards, make fraudulent purchases online or sell the stolen information on the internet. It is estimated that skimming costs financial institutions and consumers more than $1 billion annually.

Credit better than debit
Police say that fraudulent charges on a credit card are easier to dispute than charges made using debit card information, due to many credit cards having a zero liability policy, which means the cardholder has no responsibility to pay back those funds to the issuer in the case of fraud. A credit for the fraudulent amount will often be deposited back into the cardholder’s account and reflected on monthly statements.

They recommend that when making purchases at a gas station, opt to use a credit card instead of a debit card to take advantage of this extra protection, with another option being to pay for gas inside with the cashier, where the POS system is less likely to have been tampered with.

Monitor credit card activity.
They also recommend monitoring credit card activity regularly by actively checking bank statements or by accessing an account online which, they describe, as being “even better.”

Suspicious activity should be reported as soon as possible by calling the number on the back of the card, troopers report, with some credit cards having proactive alerts which will notify a cardholder if a potentially fraudulent charge is made. The next step often is to receive a new credit card with a new card number by mail, they say.

Card holders should be alert at all times for possible installation of skimming devices at all points of sale, authorities say, noting that having them installed in very public places has been unusual.