Scammers using skimmers to get your debit and credit card info

Skimmers are getting harder and harder to spot. (Courtesy Prince George’s County Police Department)

Police in Prince George’s County, Maryland, say they’re investigating the theft of hundreds of thousands of dollars taken through card skimmers that are turning up not just on ATMs or at gas stations, but in convenience and grocery stores.

Lt. Joseph Bellino, who oversees the county police department’s Financial Crimes Unit, said recipients of SNAP benefits are particular targets. This year, about $700,000 in benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has been stolen through the use of skimmers — devices that can record your PIN and drain your bank account.

“We started seeing a large increase in reports of individuals having their EBT benefits stolen about four weeks ago,” Bellino said.

Warnings about card skimmers are not new. What’s different, Bellino said, is how sophisticated some of the new skimmers look — as if they belong. “On the actual machine, they have the same key pads; they have the same style; they’ll work and fit like a glove into the actual point of sale credit card machine.

“You might assume that it would be difficult for someone to install a skimmer at a point of sale register inside a store, but Bellino said it’s not at all hard to do. “They can be affixed within seconds,” he said, simply by popping one over the existing machine.

He suggests doing an examination of the card reader, whether it’s at an ATM or in the checkout area of the grocery store. “Look for anything that’s loose, crooked, damaged, scratched,” he said.

Bellino advises against using a debit card; use your credit card instead. If you have a card with chip technology, use that one — fewer devices in the U.S. are capable of stealing chip data, police say.

Those receiving EBT or SNAP benefits, Bellino said, should change their PIN numbers regularly. And if you think your card has been skimmed, cancel it and contact social services.

“Because right now, the state doesn’t have the capability to reimburse victims who’ve lost this needed assistance, Bellino said. “And so, we have many in these vulnerable communities who are losing funds, much needed funds, they need to support their families and children.”

Bellino said the devices have turned up all over Prince George’s County, including in rural communities and inside the Beltway, and that anyone, not just SNAP recipients, is vulnerable. “It’s affecting everybody,” he said.

The county police have posted photos of what to look for.

Skimmers look very real, but there are things you can look for. (Courtesy Prince George’s County Police Department)
Here’s what a scanner without a skimmer looks like. (Courtesy Prince George’s County Police Department)
Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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