GPD recovers skimming devices at banks, prevents multitude of thefts

Published 1:02 pm Monday, March 20, 2017

The banking information of at least 30 locals was recovered after the Greenville Police Department foiled a skimming operation that could have impacted an ‘untold’ number of customers.

Shortly after Hancock Bank opened for business Friday morning, an employee notified the Greenville Police Department after inspecting the bank’s ATMs—a daily routine for Hancock employees—and discovering that one of the machines had been tampered with.

“One of the employees went out there and grabbed the card reader slot, and it was loose,” said Greenville Police Department’s Lt. Joe Disney.

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“She was able to pull the cover off, and she realized that then that someone had placed a skimmer on their ATM.”

A skimmer, in this case, actually involved two separate devices that an unknown individual placed on a Hancock Bank ATM prior to the business’s opening Friday morning. The first device, attached to the ATM’s card reader, takes the customer’s credit or debit card information without their knowledge as a part of the regular ATM transaction.

The plastic card reader is fitted over the ATM’s existing reader. Hardware on the other side of the device steals and records unsuspecting customers’ credit/debit card information.

A second device, situated near the cash dispenser, reads the user’s pin number and stores it for the use of whoever placed it there.

A second device is fitted near the ATM’s cash dispenser. It records customers’ PINs and stores them for later use alongside the corresponding stolen credit/debit card information.

Once authorities reached the scene and determined the nature of the crime, they proceeded to check not only every other bank in Greenville, but also every ATM period.

“We checked every ATM in town, whether it be a bank or any other type of business such as Walmart, etc.,” Disney said.

“We also checked gas stations because they will use skimmers on gas pumps.”

A second skimmer was found just across the street at Trustmark Bank, also located on Greenville Bypass.

In the roughly one-hour timeframe, the skimmers had collected the information of approximately 30 locals. Fortunately for residents, the Greenville Police Department recovered the devices before whoever placed them had a chance to return.

Disney posited that the suspect’s plan was likely to keep the devices placed at Hancock and Trustmark for the weekend, and then steal the information before the banks could have an opportunity to respond on Monday morning.

“We were very fortunate to get these skimmers,” Disney said. “Because of all the departments I’ve talked to around us to see if they had anything happen like this, like Montgomery and other places, they have never been able to recover a skimmer.”

While the perpetrator remains unidentified, surveillance footage has identified a white male suspect who is also wanted in connection to a similar crime in Mobile. The suspect was captured on surveillance footage in both Greenville and Mobile.

The case is being passed on to the Secret Service, who had already been working a case on the suspect. Though he will face charges locally if identified, Disney said that he would ultimately be facing federal charges.

Disney added that the recovery of the skimming devices here in Greenville is a double-edged sword for the investigation itself.

“It’s really good that we were able to save the customers from having their information stolen, but at the same time it makes it harder for us to track the suspect,” he said.

“We never want to let him get the information. But if he were to, we could track it back to where he’s using the card. If he’s using the information in another town in this state or even in another state, we could track it and also get video from those places and possibly find someone in those other locations who may know who he is.”

The seemingly sophisticated crime is difficult for unsuspecting customers at ATMs, though Disney said there are signs.

“If they’ll pay attention to the card reader itself when they slide their card, a lot of ATMs—this brand in particular—have flashing LED lights behind the plastic in the card reader,” Disney said. “If you can’t see that light flashing very well, it may be because something is covering it up. This light is pretty bright that’s very visible when you pull up to the ATM, and the skimmer dims the light and sometimes shuts it off altogether. Make sure all the lights seem to be flashing correctly that you would normally see on an ATM.

“And also, if there are any pieces of plastic sticking out further than they should be or if anything looks abnormal, I recommend not using it at that time and maybe calling the police department so that we can have a look at it.”