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Stand back from the machine

Techno scammers re-jig tactics for skimming your cash



Before you slip your debit card in the automatic teller, take a close look at the machine. Debit machines equipped with false fronts and pinhole cameras are just one trick being used by Lower Mainland technological thieves to fleece consumers, says a North Shore Credit Union security expert.

"The false front records the card number and the pinhole camera captures your pin number as you enter it," said Judy Acton, the credit union’s security, compliance and risk manager. "Then they make a duplicate card from the information and go to town."

Acton said false fronts are installed after hours and credit union employees check machines every morning for tell tale sticky residue. "But it happens across Canada, including Whistler and Squamish," she said.

Debit card scams are just one of many, says the Better Business Bureau in Vancouver. In a recently published list of popular scams, Internet fraud and identity theft are at the top.

"But they’re difficult to rate as number one or two because they overlap," said Sheila Charneski, Better Business Bureau of Mainland B.C. president. "They’re not particularly new, it’s just that things that used to be done over the counter thieves now do over the Net."

The bureau listed phishing and spoofing as popular methods for stealing credit card information over the Net. Scammers send sophisticated designed e-mails purporting to be from legitimate companies, like your bank, and then direct you to a lookalike website to update account information.

Identity theft, stealing your personal information, occurs through a variety of methods. The bureau says thieves rummage through your recycle bin or steal mail, which gives them information to gain access to your personal accounts. Whether it’s to clean out your bank accounts or create a new persona, identity theft is the fastest rising non-violent crime in Canada. The RCMP’s Phonebusters hotline says there were close to 13,000 identity thefts in Canada in 2003.

Better Business Bureau lists eight other popular scams, including fraudulent telemarketing, cheque overpayment schemes, sweepstake frauds, and home repair scams.

The bureau’s president says people are mistaken if they think it won’t happen to them.

"They think they’re smarter and wiser and they’re the ones that won’t be the suckers, but it does happen," said Charneski. "And quite often they don’t report it because they’re embarrassed."

Charneski said education is the key. Protecting yourself from scammers can be as simple as shielding one hand with the other when punching in your password at an automatic teller to shredding personal documents before putting recycling boxes out for pick up.

North Shore Credit Union’s security expert says there are other reasons for protecting yourself. For the credit union to reimburse those who lose money through an ATM debit card theft clients must attest that they took appropriate precautionary measures. "If they didn’t shield their card with their body or their hand they could be in a position of having to bear the financial loss."

For links to more information on frauds and scams, check out this story at

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