ATM 'False Front' -- A.K.A Skimmer -- Discovered Near a San Francisco Bank


Just when you thought you knew every way you could be scammed out of your identity and money and potentially everything you own, something like this pops up.  

Skimmers -- or high-tech false fronts that are placed over ATM and gas pump card slots for the purpose of stealing information -- remained pretty obscure for about a decade. But now that relatively inexpensive miniature digital cameras and card readers have become widely available, skimmers are increasingly turning up in major cities. San Francisco is no exception.

About two months ago, a skimmer was discovered on the ground near a bank in West Portal, according to Sgt. Lyn Tomioka, an SFPD spokeswoman. The skimmer has the ability to read the information on a credit or debit card, and also contains a tiny spy camera to record PIN numbers as they are typed into key pads. Police believe the skimmer had fallen off the front of the ATM, and they are conducting an ongoing investigation, said Tomioka. The bank, which Tomioka says was either Washington Mutual (now Chase) or Bank of America, is also investigating the incident.

"It doesn't seem to have become a huge issue here yet," Tomioka reassured -- but in tech-savvier realm of San Jose, one skimmer scam cost customers upwards of $195,000. In June of last year at an Arco gas station, a skimmer collected information from 177 ATM cards. The thief then cloned those ATM cards and made hundreds of withdrawals. The same thing happened in Los Altos, where 80 people who filled up at an Arco station lost $100,000.  

During the first week in April, three skimmers were found on three separate ATMs in Los Angeles and New York, according to So now, in addition to all the other things you should be doing to protect your identity and your money, you should probably shield the keypad when you type in your PIN.

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