Skimmers more common than most people know

Photo courtesy of Robert J. Rebhan/Institute for the Prevention of Financial Crimes.
This handheld skimmer is easily purchased, legal, and in a second collects the personal information and credit card information about the person whose card is slid through it.

Sunday Times Newspapers

They are legal, available for as little as $10 and can help rob someone of their identity.

They are skimmers, devices that when a credit or debit card is swiped in it, or a personal identification number punched in, it records the personal information from the card.

“They are horrible and I can’t believe just anyone can buy them,” said Rhonda Evans, who believes her information was swiped via a skimmer when she used a credit card while traveling in Mexico.

“The next day there were withdrawals for a $150 purchase and then $1,000 from another store in Cancun that I didn’t even visit, let alone for purchases that I didn’t make,” Evans said.

Evans believes someone copied the information on her credit card via a skimmer.

But one doesn’t have to travel out of the United States for this to happen.

“My wife had her credit card information stolen,” Melvindale Police Chief Jeff Hayes said. “There was a debit on her card for $400 at a gas station in Nigeria. We’ve never been to Nigeria.”

Hayes’ wife, however, was shopping at a mall a day earlier.

Thieves in Nigeria first tried a $5 transaction, which Hayes said went through. Then they tried for $400 and that was denied. Hayes said while the $5 transaction went through, the bank never charged him and his wife.

“I always keep an eye on credit card stuff,” Hayes said, adding that he and his wife try to always use the same card to make things simpler.

“I.D. theft is very prevalent,” Hayes said. “We want the convenience of paying at the pump and not walking inside.”

Yet, Hayes said people have to be mindful of who they are trusting with their information.

He said if someone is really concerned about their card, such as in a dining setting, follow the card.

“Make sure it is only swiped once,” Hayes said.

Hayes and his wife haven’t endured backlash from their scamming incident. Evans, however, has been plagued with calls demanding payment and other inconveniences.

“It takes forever to make things right again,” Evans said. “I have talked to other people who have gone through something similar. There are a lot of people out there that this has happened to.

“To see these things for sale openly online just makes me sick,” Evans said.

While being interviewed, Hayes looked up such devices and noted some selling for $9.72 that would be delivered in two days.

Some devices connect right to a computer while others store information on up to 500 card numbers before running out of space.

Hayes said Melvindale police cars have magnetic swipers to read licenses. They are equipped to plug into computers and don’t actually store information.

“It’s like most things, people can use it for good, or they can use it for bad,” Hayes said, noting it all depends on whose hands things are in.

For Evans, she said using a credit card is unthinkable for her.

“I don’t think I will ever use a credit card or debit card again,” she said. “The law never caught the people and said it would be nearly impossible because they were overseas. Yet, I’m here suffering a nightmare, and the thing that most likely caused it is openly for sale.”

(Tereasa Nims can be reached at