Secret Service explains how your ID is stolen, used


ORLANDO, Fla. – You swipe, tap and hope no one is looking or recording, but credit card theft happens every day. In fact, last year, more than 2 million cases of fraud were reported. Florida ranks No. 1 for identity theft among the 50 states, and credit card fraud is the second-highest complaint.

Crooks often rely on skimmers to swipe your information, which can happen at gas stations, ATMs or theme parks.

Within the past year, investigators linked three people to a skimming operation in Aquatica in Orlando. Employees told investigators that Nicholas Matos, who didn't work at Aquatica, supplied the skimmer to park workers and paid them $10 for each card swiped.  

So once crooks have your personal information, what do they do with it? The Secret Service says skimmers can look different on the outside. It's what's inside that's the same.

"To you and me it would look like a regular receptacle for a credit card or ATM machine," Special Agent Pedro Escandon said. "These are the battery packs, this is the memory chip and here is the reader."

This magnetic strip reader is what's important, he added.

"That's going to record every time the credit card goes in. It's going to record the information on the magnetic strip," Escandon said.

That information is transmitted to the memory chip, and it's powered by a battery. It takes less than two minutes to install a skimmer on an ATM or gas pump.

Agents said they're also finding pinhole camera's discretely positioned above where users are swiping your card.

"This is the memory chip, and the camera is right over here, and if you can see there is a little pinhole right there," Escandon said.

That allows criminals to record the typing of the 4-digit PIN.

Criminals take the memory chip, connect it to a laptop and download all the information using a special program. Officials explain the criminals can then use a blank plastic card to retrieve the info.

"We consider this white plastic, basically because nothing is on it, it's blank. This could be a hotel room key.  It could be a gift card," Escandon said.


Swipe the card through an encoder, which is used to put data on the strip of a card, and each time a swipe is made, a new card is created with the stolen information.

The last step crooks take involves an embosser, the process of adding a name and number on the card.  Once a lever is pulled, the stolen credit card information is now in the hands of a criminal.

Helpful links:

  • Everyone is entitled to one free credit report a year from each of the three credit bureaus. The Better Business Bureau of Northeast Florida recommends the website AnnualCreditReport.com.
  • The Federal Trade Commission offers advice on how to protect your privacy and identity and what to do if it's stolen. 
  • The United States Postal Service explains how to report mail fraud, theft and misconduct.