Reported By Nancy Amons
If you've had money mysteriously "zapped" from your bank account or charges appear on your credit card statement for things you didn't buy, you may have been the victim of a high-tech crime. Thieves don't even need your actual credit or debit card once they make an illegal copy of yours.
Watch This Story
Mike Prusinski is senior vice president of LifeLock, an identity protection company.
Using a laptop and inexpensive equipment that anyone can buy, he demonstrated how easily thieves can steal your information in about 15 seconds.
He showed a device about half the size of a pack of playing cards called a skimmer, and a newer, smaller version with more advanced technology.
"The normal skimmer will hold several hundred numbers, then you have the technology that's is a little better. It's a Bluetooth," Prusinski said.
Say you hand your card to a server or a store clerk. He swipes it a second time, for himself. With a Bluetooth skimmer, he can wirelessly transmit your stolen information to a laptop nearby, then transfer the information to a blank card.
Dress it up with a bank logo using a laser printer and the new card is ready for a shopping spree.
"The technology is everywhere. You can go to Craigslist and buy this type of material, and it's not against the law to have it," Prusinski said.
There are ways consumers can protect themselves. Prusinski said to be aware of anything odd about an ATM machine. Do you get an "out of order" message? Tell the bank, he said, in case a skimmer has been installed. And you can ask to watch a restaurant swipe your card while you wait for it.
Prusinski also said you could consider using gift cards, especially for shopping online. Then if a thief steals your card number, the most you would lose is the amount on the gift card.
Banks will generally return any money you can show was stolen from your account, but Prusinski said, it may be inconvenient for you to wait if that takes days or weeks.
Prusinski said consumers should also be aware of the new credit cards that have embedded chips. They use radio waves so you don't have to swipe your card. He said thieves can intercept those signals with antennas and copy them.
"It's better not to have those. So if you have those, and you don't want it, call your bank and tell them you don't want it; you want to exchange it for a normal one," he said.
Your passport has that chip in it too, if you have a passport that was issued after 2006.
You can safeguard your passport and any credit cards that use that radio wave technology by keeping them in a wallet that blocks the signal. They can be purchased on line for under $25.
Copyright 2011 by WSMV.com. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.Got a story idea? E-mail newstips to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the newsroom 24/7 at 615-353-2231.