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ATM card scammers hit Newcastle once again

By Jim Feehan

High-tech ATM card scamming thieves have struck Newcastle again. From at least Thanksgiving Day through Dec. 3., thieves placed a bankcard-skimming device on a card-reading unit at the AM/PM convenience store, 6966 Coal Creek Parkway S.E., withdrawing thousands of dollars from customers' bank accounts, police said.

Thieves also targeted the AM/PM on Duvall Avenue Northeast and Sunset Boulevard in the Renton Highlands, and several other convenience stores in the central Puget Sound area, Newcastle Police Chief Melinda Irvine said.

"We're talking several hundred victims," she said regarding the card scamming thefts from Lynnwood to Tacoma.

Police are also reviewing video from a surveillance camera at the Newcastle AM/PM, Irvine said.

A fake card reader captures information from the magnetic strip on the back of a bankcard.

After obtaining account information from the bankcard, thieves access the victims' bank accounts and remove money, Irvine said.

False card readers may be placed on any card-reading device, including pay-at-the-pump card readers and ATMs, she said.

Card scammers hit Newcastle in May, when two people using the Boeing Employees' Credit Union automatic teller machine in the QFC parking lot, in the 6900 block of Coal Creek Parkway Southeast, noticed the card reader looked a little different.

The customers noticed a suspicious box above the keypad for entering personal identification numbers.

One of the patrons pulled on the box and it came off. The device was fastened to the machine with double-sided tape. The customer pulled on the card reader and it came off as well. The faceplate for the card reader had wires and a battery in back, police said.

A camera, positioned to read personal identification numbers as customers entered them, was also recovered.

In that instance, the equipment used to capture bankcard and personal information numbers was disguised to look like regular ATM equipment. The "skimmer" was mounted to the front of the normal ATM card slot that reads the card number. A disguised wireless camera was mounted nearby to view personal identification number entries.

Typically, thieves copy the cards and use the personal information number to withdraw money from customers' accounts. They often monitor activity from a nearby location, Irvine said.

"To prevent loss of your information in this manner, we encourage people to use the same ATM whenever possible, to be more likely to recognize machine alterations," she said.

Customers should check the devices for potential alterations before using them, Irvine said.