People using an ATM this summer just steps from the iconic Flying Horses carousel on the island of Martha’s Vineyard were scammed out of their credit and debit card information by high-tech thieves who made off with about $160,000, police said.
Over a period of six or seven weeks during the height of summer activity on the island, two men attached a skimmer device to a Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank ATM on Circuit Avenue just steps from the merry-go-round, in an area full of restaurants and shops, said Oak Bluffs Police Lieutenant Tim Williamson.
The men were able to grab the information from more than 160 unsuspecting people. The scam artists made duplicate cards and went to other cities, where they withdrew large amounts of cash, Williamson said.
The skimmer is a device a criminal places over the slot where a customer inserts their debit or credit card in an ATM. The skimmer scans the data, including the name, card number, and bank information, from the card’s magnetic strip, and then passes the card into the ATM where it was originally intended to go, Williamson said.
To obtain the PIN number, the suspects either used a small hidden camera to catch video of what people were typing, or a device placed over the keypad that stores PIN numbers, Williamson said.
The suspects placed their devices on the ATM around 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. and removed them around 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. Williamson suspects they used this pattern because the devices only could store so much data — or had a limited battery life.
The ATM is equipped with a surveillance camera that captured pictures of the men. Unfortunately, the ATM’s camera, positioned to catch a picture of a user’s face, was not working at the time of the transactions, Williamson said.
Police say the suspects are men in their early 20s, of average height and with a slim or athletic build. They have dark hair and dressed casually during each incident. One of them wore an Armani Exchange T-shirt that spelled out A/X MILAN NYC in block letters, Williamson said.
Williamson said he suspected that the men lingered somewhere in the busy area, while they waited for their devices to do their work. He urged people who were in the area to give police a call if they know anything about the men.
A few weeks after obtaining the card information and PIN numbers, the illegal transactions began. Withdrawals were made between Sept. 1 and Sept. 5, in New York, Indianapolis, and Chicago. Victims and their banks began to catch onto the fraud and canceled their cards.
Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank had 130 customers. Their accounts were drained of about $140,000. Bank of America reported 37 customers were scammed out of $21,647, Williamson said.
Williamson said calls were still coming in from people affected by the scam. He received calls from victims in Illinois and Pennsylvania today.
Now that the Martha’s Vineyard victims have canceled their cards, Williamson expects the suspects will move to another city and pick another ATM.
He said the Secret Service would be coming to the island Monday to help in the investigation.
To avoid this kind of fraud, scrutinize an ATM before using it and when entering the PIN, block the keypad so a camera can’t record the PIN numbers, said Williamson.
Oak Bluffs police urge anyone with information to call 508-693-0750.