Federal investigators are revealing to the NBC4 I-Team the brand-new, high-tech gadgets that identity thieves are using to rip people off at Southern California ATMs and gas stations.
The devices are the latest skimmers, tools that electronically capture a victim's personal information. Global losses from skimming are estimated at more than $2 billion annually, according to a report by the U.S. Secret Service.
It happened to Los Angeles graphic designer Sue Black. She was checking her finances recently when a discrepancy caught her eye.
"All of a sudden, I was like, 'Oh no,'" she said.
There were unrecognizable purchases for hundreds of dollars on her debit card, a card she hadn't lost or reported stolen.
"Identity theft. I never thought it would happen to me," Black said. "And it did."
Police told Black her debit card had been skimmed somewhere — either at her ATM or a gas pump. And the I-Team has learned thieves are coming up with surprising new ways to commit this crime.
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"We're seeing things that are made using 3-D technology," U.S. Secret Service agent Steve Scarince told NBC4.
Scarince showed Mac several examples of the latest skimming devices criminals have been attaching to ATMs, gas pumps and grocery store debit card readers.
"This was made from a simple mold, and when the number was captured here, there was another device with a pinhole camera that was capturing your pin as you entered it," Scarince explained, pointing to one of the devices. "Then, using a pinhole camera, they would look down on your key pad and capture your pin."
The I-Team obtained Secret Service surveillance video, which showed how the camera can be mounted inside the molding of an ATM, at an angle customers would never notice.
Scarince also showed NBC4 a gadget that can steal your information at secured, indoor ATM locations that require the swipe of a card to enter.
"They retrofitted this with their own skimming device on the inside," he said. "It's amazing how fast it actually attached to the door slider."
Once they've captured your information, thieves can produce replicas of your debit card in seconds, using cheap card stock and a printer; within minutes, they can start draining your account.
"We've seen people sit at an ATM for 45 to 50 minutes, downloading $40,000 to $50,000 in cash," Scarince said.
Despite wreaking financial havoc on millions of consumers, skimmers often escape tough sentencing because their crime is not violent.
"Kind of our unofficial slogan is 'death by a thousand cuts,'" Scarince said. "We have to arrest you two or three times before it actually sticks."
The damage certainly sticks. About $5,000 was taken from Black's account before she and her bank put a stop to it.
She had a message for the thieves who left her poorer, but wiser:
"I hope you really needed it buddy," she said. "Because I did. I hope you needed it more than I did."