How can people avoid falling victim to skimmers?

Ida Brown says her bank account was compromised by a skimmer device

By Lauren Verno - Consumer investigative reporter

Credit card skimmers are cropping up more and more at gas stations and ATMs across Northeast Florida.

In fact, they were at the center of a recent scheme stretching from Putnam County to Jacksonville. Authorities said a woman and her nephew stole more than $100,000 before they were caught.

In that case, nearly 300 cards were compromised before a two-month investigation led to arrests.

It’s a feeling Ida Brown knows too well. Brown, who has called Putnam County home for 35 years and has been driving school buses for nearly 30 of those years, has been saving her hard-earned money all the while. She’s been pining for a vacation.

That’s why Brown got so upset when she saw $200 missing from her bank account. At first, she thought her husband had spent the money. It wasn’t until she confronted him that she realized he hadn’t.

"So when he got home, I was kind of just sitting and waiting, ready to leap on him and he goes, 'I didn't do this," she told News4Jax. "I just hate the idea that I worked hard for it, and my husband works very hard for it, and somebody can just come along and take it from you."

Brown said she believes she was one of the dozens of victims in the scheme in which investigators said skimmers were placed on at least 10 bank ATMs, but she's not sure which ATM her information was stolen from. 

"There's a lot (of), I don't want to say, poor people, in Putnam County, but this isn't a rich area and people work hard for their money down here," Brown said. "I hate to see them losing money to someone like that."

Brown said her bank confirmed her card was compromised by a skimming device. 

"She said, 'They had to have made a card.' I said, 'They didn't have the card. We had the card.' She says, 'That's not how that works. They duplicate your cards. The skimmers, that's what they do,'" Brown said.

WATCH: Signs of a skimmer

With the growing threat of skimmer devices, News4Jax Consumer Investigator Lauren Verno visited one of the ATMs where a skimmer was recently found to show what people need to look out for.

She was joined by News4Jax crime and safety expert Ken Jefferson, who noticed something was wrong the moment he laid eyes on the machine.

“What you want to look for first is anything that looks disfigured or out of the ordinary,” Jefferson said. “For instance, if this camera was covered up, if there’s residue of some sort.”

He told Verno a white substance on the card swiper was likely left behind by the glue from a skimmer. If it had been from frequent use or wear and tear, he said, there wouldn’t be residue.

So how can people avoid falling victim to skimmers? “My recommendation is to not use these right now until they find a way to solve this issue,” Jefferson said.

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