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updated: 11/10/2017 11:22 AM

Why ATM skimming is hot right now -- and what's next in ID theft

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  • Video: ATM Safety - Check for skimmer


Police arrested three suburban men last Friday on charges they placed a skimmer device at a Naperville ATM and used the stolen information to make more than $25,000 in illegal purchases.

That came after Chicago cops reported finding 13 skimmers in October, mostly at Walgreens stores. This year alone, we've come across instances of skimmers being found in Libertyville, Des Plaines, Bartlett, Batavia, Aurora, Wilmette and Yorkville.

So, what's going on?

Suburban cops we spoke with say the rash of skimming activity likely stems from a crew -- or crews -- of thieves working the area.

"Chicagoland is very hot right now. It seems to be on the uptick," said Naperville Detective Ben Moehring, who worked the latest case.

Here's how it goes down: Thieves install skimming devices inside an ATM's card reader that capture data off a debit or credit card. At the same time, they'll place a small, hidden camera on the ATM -- often just above the screen -- to record customers typing their PIN number.

With the info from the card and a PIN number, thieves now have access to the ATM user's accounts.

Crews prefer to install the devices at outdoor machines and at times when others aren't likely to be around. Skimmers typically remain in place for a day or so before the installer returns to collect it. Some send data is wirelessly.

"They want to get in and get out before it's discovered," Libertyville police Lt. Bill Kinast told us.

The spike in skimmer discoveries might also be tied to an increase in public awareness.

"People are a little more cautious when they put their cards in," Kinast said.

How not to get skimmed

What can you do to avoid skimming?

First, recognize it isn't just at ATMs. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, skimming at gas pumps is on the rise. And with fuel pumps, thieves have found ways to make skimmers even harder to detect by putting them inside the cabinet. According to the U.S. Secret Service, many fuel cabinets nationwide could be accessed with a universal key.

To spot a skimming device, Kinast said people should make sure their card slides in and out of a machine smoothly. Check to be sure the card reader "fits" properly and doesn't move if tugged.

The Federal Trade Commission recommends consumers look for a tiny pinhole above the keypad that would indicate a camera, stick to gas pumps that are padlocked or have security seals, and check your cellphone to see if an unexpected Bluetooth signal is showing, which could indicate a skimmer sending data wirelessly. It's also not a bad idea to cover the keypad with your free hand when entering your PIN.

If you find anything unusual at an ATM or gas pump, call police and alert the business you're visiting, Kinast said.

Naperville Deputy Chief Jason Arres said it is better to use an ATM inside a lobby of a bank, rather than the drive-through. And if you see someone using a drive-through on foot, be suspicious, he said. That's one of the ways thieves install the skimmers.

What's next?

Criminals are always trying to keep a step ahead of law enforcement.

And that brings us to "shimming."

What's shimming? It's sort of like skimming, but instead of a fake card reader, thieves are installing a paper-thin circuit board (aka a "shim") in the chip-readers on terminals. The shim takes the data off chips, allowing criminals to then put it on magnetic strips of fraudulent cards.

As soon as a new security feature, such as the chip, is added, "They always seem to find a way to circumvent that. A criminal is always going to find ways to profit from it," Arres said.

Stranger danger

We've seen a spate of reports over the past week of strangers approaching and attempting to lure children near bus stops or on residential streets in several Northwest suburbs, including Mount Prospect, Kildeer and a neighborhood near Tower Lakes.

The Mount Prospect cases, reported Nov. 1 and Nov. 4, respectively, involved different vehicles and probably different suspects. In both instances, children were approached by a man in a car who encouraged them to come to him. The children walked away and sought help.

In between those incidents, on Nov. 2, the Lake County sheriff received a report of a man in a gold vehicle who tried to speak with children at bus stops after school in the Timberlake Estates subdivision near Tower Lakes.

And this week, police in Kildeer took a report of a man watching an elementary-aged student walk toward her home after getting off the bus after school. The man, whose description did not match the Timberlake Estates suspect, did not attempt to speak with the child.

Because of the discrepancies in descriptions of the vehicles and suspects, police do not believe the cases are related. But they still serve as a reminder that parents should warn their kids about talking or responding to strangers, and instruct them to run for help and call 911 if a someone approaches and attempts to lure them.

Farewell, Storming Norman

Elgin police and others in the Fox Valley law enforcement community are mourning the passing of retired Sgt. Norman P. Landwehr, a lifelong resident who served on the city's force for more than 30 years.

Landwehr, who died Monday at age 74, held several roles in the department, including many years working in the detective bureau.

On the department's Facebook page, former officer Mike Lee called "Storming Norman" one of the best supervisors he ever worked under. "No one was better than him," Lee wrote.

Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Laird Funeral Home in Elgin. Visitation is from 4 to 6 p.m. today at the funeral home, 310 S. State St.

Helping out

A new Batavia police officer is among 150 Illinois Army National Guard military police officers who reported to Puerto Rico Saturday to help the hurricane-ravaged island.

Officer Will Konovsky is a lieutenant attached to the 933rd Military Police Company, based at Fort Sheridan. As executive officer, he will oversee logistics and administration.

For the next 30 days or so, the officers will escort convoys of relief supplies and workers, help distribute food and water, and aid law enforcement, Konovsky said.

Konovsky, who has been in the National Guard nine years, joined the Batavia force in October. Joining him on the mission are officers from 16 departments in Illinois, including Villa Park, College of DuPage, Burr Ridge, Evanston, Chicago and the Cook County sheriff.

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