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ATM 'skimming' suspects sought in Woodbury

In this image provided by Woodbury police, it is noted where "skimming" equipment is placed on an ATM.1 / 3
This faceplate was placed on top of ATM equipment in attempt to skim financial data from unsuspecting ATM customers. Image courtesy of Woodbury police2 / 3
The backsides of "skimming" equipment, including a camera (horizontal item) and a phony faceplate (below). Photo courtesy of Woodbury police3 / 3

Police are searching for suspects involved in a so-called "skimming" operation at a Woodbury ATM.

A magnetic card-reading gadget was discovered Sept. 9 before would-be thieves had a chance to exploit its data, but police said it had the potential to fleece dozens of unfortunate customers out of their money.

According to a preliminary report, a Woodbury man using an ATM at US Bank on Valley Creek Road noticed his card got stuck on the card reader when he attempted to retrieve it from the machine. When he pulled on the reader, the unit separated from the machine, revealing an identical reader beneath it.

Woodbury police commander Jay Alberio said the man was wise to call police right away.

"An ATM working properly should not have any loose parts," he said.

Police confiscated the surreptitious card reader. Follow-up investigation of the scene revealed a "pinhole camera" on the ATM. Alberio said the camera was part of the skimming operation and is used by criminals in conjunction with the card reader.

The equipment was believed installed at 6:49 p.m. Friday. It was discovered by the customer less than two hours later. Alberio said there were no other recent reports of area ATMs being similarly molested.

He said it appeared to be a textbook ATM-skimming operation. In such cases, criminals secure the card reader and pinhole camera on ATMs after banks - which generally examine ATMs daily for the devices - have closed for the day, Alberio explained.

Customers, unaware the devices are installed, enter their cards and personal identification (PIN) numbers while transacting business. Meanwhile, the reader records the magnetic strip data, while the camera records the PIN code being punched in.

After retrieving the gadgets - Alberio said usually after four to six hours - the suspects take the information and download it. The card data is placed on blank cards' magnetic strips and the corresponding PIN numbers are noted so the new card can be accessed for purchases or withdrawals.

Alberio said a surveillance camera captured suspects, but the images were not conclusive. Police were investigating a rental vehicle believed to be connected with the incident.

He recommended ATM customers attempt to protect themselves by using a free hand to shield the PIN sequence and to report anything suspicious.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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