Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Skimming Threat Strengthens Inherent Value of HomeATM Wedgie

Credit and Debit card Skimming is becoming all the more commonplace. Fortunately for us, law enforcement is becoming more and more diligent. But will it help, can they keep up?

I believe these articles provide further insight, if not downright proof, that utilizing a personal swiping device (such as HomeATM's Wedgie) for online transactions, is "significantly safer" than swiping a card through a POS device provided by retailers in the physical world.

Another pain at the pump -- credit card skimmers

It's an ongoing problem nationwide -- thieves putting small devices on card readers at gas pumps to steal credit or debit card information. Steve Meissner with Arizona Weights and Measures said it hasn't really been a problem in Arizona. ``About a year ago, we did find evidence of a skimmer in one location," Meissner said, adding that he has not seen another case since.

But, he said the state is still vigilant. ``We're checking about 22,000 meters a year... Every time we check a fueling device, we open up the meter on the gas pump and look for any evidence of an illegal device like that." Meissner said some devices are easy to spot -- they're external, big and loose. Other times, they're really hard to detect. ``There are other devices that are put internally inside the gas pump, which is why we get the key from operators of the gas pump and physically look for anything," he said.


Customers and police agencies across the USA are dealing with another pain at the pump, thieves who install hard-to-detect electronic devices at stations to steal credit and debit card data. The skimmed data are used to create cards used at the victims' expense, says James Van Dyke, president and founder of Javelin Strategy and Research, a financial consulting firm that focuses on fraud and identity theft.

Investigations of theft related to skimming devices at gas pumps continue in Arizona, California, Washington, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Delaware, according to various police departments.

Though the most recent cases don't necessarily represent an epidemic, the Secret Service is investigating incidents across the country, says Ed Donovan, spokesman for the agency, which has financial and electronic crimes units. Skimming devices have been used for several years, most often at ATMs. Thieves increasingly target pumps because it's a cheap, easy way to steal credit and debit card information, Van Dyke says.

"Card fraud at gas pumps is a significant problem, and that's because of the unintended nature of the checkout devices," he says. "Essentially, every gas pump is an electronic cash register."

The skimming devices can be installed both inside OR outside the pump.Thieves glue a plastic sleeve, equipped with covered wires that capture data, over the pump's card reader or connect the device directly to the reader inside. The devices are molded and painted to match the machine and are small, making them hard to detect, Van Dyke says. Among recent cases:

•California: San Jose police are investigating a case that began in May, when thieves placed a skimming device at an Arco station, eventually taking more than $200,000 from up to 180 victims, says police department spokesman Jermaine Thomas. The device was on the pump for more than a month, after which the suspects retrieved the machine, Thomas says. "Your normal, average person would not even know that the skimming device is attached," he says.

• Washington: The Pierce County Sheriff's Office is investigating a case where thieves installed a skimming device at an Arco gas pump last August, leaving it there for 11 months and cleaning out at least 120 victims' bank accounts over the July 4th weekend, says sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer. Reports of fraudulent withdrawals are still pouring in, and the number of victims could reach 250 with a total of $500,000 stolen, he says.

• Pennsylvania: State police recovered four skimming devices installed inside gas pumps at Wawa stations in Delaware, Chester, Montgomery and Bucks counties beginning in April, trooper Christopher Shoap says. He suspects more devices were used at other stations and estimates that several dozen victims have lost tens of thousands of dollars.

•Delaware: The Pennsylvania case is linked to one in Delaware, where police suspect a device was placed and later retrieved at a New Castle Wawa pump, Shoap says. The Secret Service is investigating, says Cpl. Jeff Whitmarsh of the Delaware State Police. The Secret Service would not comment because the investigation is continuing.

•Nevada: The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department is investigating two devices placed at gasoline pumps within the past four months, in addition to several cases where devices were placed on ATMs, says Lt. Bob Sebby of the financial crimes unit.

The combined cases total $1 million to $3.5 million stolen from hundreds of victims' accounts, Sebby says. The department is trying to prevent additional identity fraud by asking gas stations to consider placing sticker seals on the pumps that employees can check daily.

"With identify theft, it's not a matter of if you're going to be a victim, it's a matter of when," Sebby says.


Meanwhile...on the ATM front:

Police in Montgomery County say they need help from the public in tracking down the suspects who allegedly set up a camera and a skimmer device to record card and PIN numbers from an ATM machine at a Bethesda bank.

Investigators say they were alerted to the scheme on August 2 when a customer told employees of the Bank of America on Rockville Pike he had noticed something suspicious. Police say the man discovered that the light cover of the bank's ATM machine was lying on the counter with a small counter taped to the inside.

Officers say they believe the camera was placed inside the machine to record PIN numbers of customers who used the ATM. Further investigation revealed that a skimmer device had also been placed at the ATM, and it captured the credit and debit card numbers when customers put their cards into the machine.

Detectives say the devices were in place from about 2 p.m. to 6:20 p.m. on Saturday, August 2. Bank of America is in the process of contacting customers whose accounts may have been affected by the scheme.

Related Stories from the past 10 days:

Editorial: 'Skimmers' add insults to injuries
Crooks steal cash when you pump gas
Thieves Skim Cards at Gas Pumps
Credit card info 'skimmed' from Phila. area gas pumps
2 sought in debit card skimming thefts The News Journal
Police Issue Warning About Credit Scammers CBS 3
Updated: Wawa 'skimming' case All Around Philly
Suspects sought in skimming

Debit skimmers hit Galaxy patrons
Tips to spot a skimming device on that debit card reader

High Gas Prices to "Drive" More Shoppers Online

iCongo, Inc., a leading developer of e-business systems and software, today released the results of a consumer survey conducted on their behalf by Harris Interactive(R) that shows the surge in gasoline prices will sharply cut consumers' holiday spending and drive more shoppers online. (pun intended?)

As a result of increasing gasoline prices, nearly 3 in 4 online adults, 73 percent, expect their holiday shopping habits to change in some way, for example, by spending less on gifts (42 percent) and doing more one-stop shopping (40 percent).

Findings show more than one in three online adults (36 percent) are now more likely to shop online rather than in-person as a result of the increasing price of gasoline.

The iCongo survey also shows that nearly nine in ten online adults, 88 percent, currently shop online and, of those, the majority, 96 percent, are more likely to shop online than in-person at a store.  Here's why:
  • 69 percent of online shoppers prefer the ability to shop at any time as a reason they are more likely to shop online;
  • 60 percent said free shipping is a reason they are more likely to shop online; and,
  • 59 percent of online shoppers said lower prices drive them to shop online over in a store.
  • E-retailers frequently offer free or discounted shipping and online-only pricing to drive consumer interest in online shopping.

    For full survey results, please email your request to

    "Painful gas prices are hitting consumers' pocketbooks and impacting spending habits," said Irwin Kramer, founder and CEO of iCongo. "Our survey shows that 73 percent of all online adults expect their holiday shopping habits to change--a dramatic indication that gas prices are deeply impacting shoppers' attitudes." According to this data, regardless of age, gender, region of the country or income, high gas prices are driving many consumers to shop online.

But...We Need Unfair/Deceptive Practices to Be Profitable, J.P.Morgan?

I gotta kick-outta this one...let's cut to the Chase...

In May, the Federal Reserve and other regulators proposed steps to end what they called "unfair and deceptive" practices in the credit card industry. The rules aim to protect people from having their interest rates raised arbitrarily. (among other practices)

However, today came this (From JPMorgan Chase):

"The Federal Reserve's proposed rules for credit card lenders could lead to the banking industry to lose at least $10.6 billion in interest annually, JPMorgan Chase & Co. said in a letter to regulators, citing a study."

The bank said those industry losses would likely result in a nearly 12 percent increase in annual percentage rates to an average of 16.58 percent! They also said it would result in a $1.1 trillion reduction in total credit lines to consumers; and tighter standards that would stop $11 billion in new accounts from being booked each year.

Editors Note: I getting this right? Is J.P Morgan really saying "If the Federal Reserve (in order to prevent our "arbitrary" interest rate spike in cards) steps in and attempts to END our "unfair and deceptive" credit card practices, an interest rate increase will become mandatory. Are they really saying that they "cannot afford" to do business without deceptive and unfair behavior? Or are they saying, "we'll meet you halfway...we'll get rid of the deception part, but please let us keep "unfair" or we stand to lose $10.6 billion in interest fees.
Wait...there's more:
In a letter sent Monday to the Fed's board of governors, the "Office of Thrift Supervision" and National Credit Union Administration, JPMorgan's Chase Bank subsidiary said the proposed regulation, if finalized, "is likely to have profound effects on Chase's operations and financial results."

The cumulative impact for the participating banks is at least $10.6 billion in annualized interest lost, Chase said in its letter,
signed by Associate General Counsel Andrew T. Semmelman.

On Monday, the chairman of the Senate's investigations subcommittee said he supports the Federal Reserve's proposed restrictions on credit card practices -- but that he believes there should be more.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., wrote in a 13-page letter to the Fed that it should expand its rules to end or restrict such practices as charging interest for debt paid on time; interest on transaction fees; fees levied on consumers paying their bills on time; and billing amounts that force consumers to pay four or five times their original debt.

Back in March, JPMorgan Chase, at the behest of the U.S. government, bought the ailing investment bank Bear Stearns Cos. when it appeared to be near collapse.

Editors Note: Kind of gives new meaning to the term "conflict of interest" doesn't it? It'll be interesting, to say the least, to watch how this turns out.

Prediction..not good for consumers. Not good for the credit card companies.

Related: Chuck Jaffe writes for MarketWatch:
Cost of Credit Card Reform? Pricey

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