Oh, the Irony: Identity Theft Prosecutor Is Hacked

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AP Photo / Ted S. Warren

U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan

Credit card skimming, in which a crook installs a device in an ATM or payment terminal to steal account information, can happen to anybody. For proof, look to Seattle, where Jenny Durkan, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Washington and chair of the Justice Department’s Cybercrime Subcommittee tells local news outlets she had a card compromised by skimmers.

“The thieves are very clever,” Durkan tells Seattle’s KING5 news station. “What they’ve done is created devices they just slip over ATM machines, gas station machines, anywhere that takes a credit card.” In Durkan’s case, the thief used a skimmer at an ATM to record her card number, as well as her PIN, and robbed her of $1,000.

(MORE: Could Your Credit Card Information be Hacked?)

Associations that represent banks and merchants say they know skimming is a huge problem, and they’re taking steps to combat it. Last year, the National Association of Convenience Stores launched a program to combat skimming, says Jeff Lenard, vice president of communications. The NACS offers its member merchants decals that can be placed over terminal readers in places like gas stations. If a thief tries to break into the terminal to install a skimmer, the decal will tear and visually alert the customer that the machine may have been tampered with. Since the program’s launch late last year, Lenard says NACS has sold more than 200,000 of the decals and says a rise in adoption is fueling more demand from store owners. “We find that the skimming is a problem any place that these devices can be installed,” he says.

The vendor in charge of NACS’s decal program has begun reaching out to financial institutions to see if a similar solution is possible for bank ATMs. According to Carol Kaplan, senior director of public relations for the American Bankers Association, ATM skimmers are usually mounted on the outsides of the machines, so crooks wouldn’t need to tear a decal and break in. But Cary Whaley, vice president of payments and technology for the Independent Community Bankers of America, says an anti-skimming decal could be useful for his member institutions, especially those with ATMs in stores or remote locations where they aren’t inspected by bank employees on a daily basis. For ATMs, a decal would have to be shaped or positioned in a way that would alert a customer if a skimmer was mounted over it.

(MORE: How Banks Are Aiding and Abetting Identity Theft)

In the meantime, Seattle’s Durkan probably wishes she took her own advice. The KING5 article says, “Durkan recommends ATM users check the machine carefully for any loose parts, signs or mirrors that could hide a hidden camera, or any other irregularities. Users should also cover the keypad with their free hand when entering a PIN.”