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The old-fashioned skimming method uses payment-card readers that are camouflaged and fastened over the legitimate credit card slots. Not only do card readers convert information coded in the magnetic strips on the backs of cards, but they also store the information in readable language to digital memory banks. Although the external card skimmer is easier to spot than the newer devices, the payoff can be bigger as these skimmers can be placed on Automated Teller Machines or gas pumps.

“The best practice is to use a credit card rather than a debit card,” said Eva Velasquez, chief executive officer of the Identity Theft Resource Center. “When someone gets access to your debit card, they’re taking your cold, hard cash. You don’t have the same protection on a debit card as you do on a credit card.”

Be it $2 or $2 million, if a fraudulent charge is made on a credit card and reported in 60 days, the card holder will only be responsible for a maximum of $50. Those who use a debit card must report fraudulent charges within two days to cap their liability at $50. If debit card users don’t make a report within the two-day window, their financial responsibility is upped to $500. After 60 days, a debit card user may lose all the money stolen from the account, according to Velasquez.

“With a credit card, companies will protect you against stolen cards,” said John Warner of San Andreas, who worked for a company that made card payment devices. “With a debit card (after a certain amount of time), all sales are final. You’ll call up your bank and say you have a fraud. They’ll say, ‘Well, the 50 cents left in your account will buy you a cup of coffee.’ That’s why they say to guard your Personal Identi-fication Number.”

Tiny cameras disguised as ornamentation or phony keypad-overlays can be attached to pumps and ATMs to record PINs as they’re typed into keypads. Covering keypads while typing is a good way to block electronic eyes from spotting PINs, and avoiding conspicuous keypads serves as an additional safety measure, Velasquez said.

An added security measure on credit and debit cards alike is a card security code – a three-digit number on cards that is not stored on the magnetic encryption striping the backs of payment cards. Most online vendors require the code before a purchase is made, but some websites lack the added security step and attract those with ill-gotten card information.

The second, and newer, model of card skimmers is an undetectable card reader thieves put inside gas pumps that intercepts card information before it becomes a payment. Unfortunately for some Calaveras County residents, the latter is the more dangerous of the two, and it was what was found in gas pumps throughout the area.

With Bluetooth technology that sends information short distances using radio waves, thieves can use smart phones to tap into a wealth of stolen credit and debit card information. The new skimmers send card numbers to a thief wirelessly from about 164 feet away, according to Seth Hanford, the manager of a threat research team at the Cisco Company.

Fitted with wireless transmission devices or not, these skimmers are the biggest threat to the publics’ financial security, because unlike their antiquated predecessors, these new, sleek skimming devices can’t be detected from the outside of a pump. And, to get inside a gas pump and install a skimmer, thieves don’t need advanced skills.

“To sit here in 2013 when a lot of gas stations have pumps that are relatively new and are liable to an attack, that’s negligence at best,” Warner said. “You can’t put it on the back of the guy who owns the gas station. The bottom line is that 90 percent of the blame is on the pump-maker and 10 percent is on the on the oil franchise that doesn’t demand a safer product.”

Seals are stuck to the outside of gas pumps at the Shell station in San Andreas and on many other gas stations in the county. When the door to a gas pump is open, the seal must be peeled off. Even if criminals try to stick the seal back on, the words “void” appear across the sticker – a clear sign of tampering.

“(These scams are) an opportunity to start a dialogue with your bank. … But do your due diligence and monitor your transactions,” Warner said. “It’s a lot harder for someone to continue to compromise your information if you’re monitoring it.”