Imagine the surprise one Floridian got recently when a device used to steal debit and credit card data fell off an ATM right into his hands. The hot summer sun melted the adhesive that held the skimmer in place.
Do-no-gooders attach these skimmers over card readers at ATMs and gas station pumps. The skimmer stores card data and emits a Bluetooth signal to the thief's laptop that's close by, a Secret Service agent told me last year for a story on card fraud.
To capture personal identification numbers needed at ATMs, the fraudsters will also install a pinhole camera aimed at the keyboard to capture four-digit PINs as they're punched in. Others place an overlay on the keyboard that records the keystrokes.
The skimmer used in Sea Ranch Lakes, Fla., was molded to fit the particular ATM the crook targeted.
"We are not dealing with dummies here," the police officer heading the investigation said Thursday in a local media report. So far, no arrests have been made.
The incident underscores how important it is to be cautious when getting cash from an ATM. Make sure to examine the ATM and other exposed card readers before using them. If they look tampered with, move on. ATMs that are inside and have security cameras often are safer, but there's no guarantee.
If you find many ATMs in one area that are out of service except one, avoid the so-called "working one." The Secret Service agent told me that is a common ploy to lure cardholders to compromised readers.
Otherwise, monitor your bank accounts and credit card statements regularly, preferably online. If you see a suspicious transaction, notify your bank or credit card company immediately. Time is of the essence for debit card holders, who face increased liability as more time passes. Credit card holders, on the other hand, are only liable up to $50 for card losses under federal law.
Notify the credit reporting bureaus, too, to help fend off possible identity theft. The bureaus will place a fraud alert on your account for 90 days, which tells creditors to take extra precautions before extending credit to you. Pull your credit report as well, to make sure no unauthorized accounts have been opened in your name. If they have, follow Bankrate's guide to recover from identity theft.
Have you dealt with a stolen credit card or, even worse, a stolen identity? What happened? What did you do?
Follow me on Twitter: @JannaHerron.