ASPEN - The Aspen Police Department is investigating the use of a so-called skimmer device that was placed at the ATM of a local bank in the last week of December, resulting in at least three fraud victims who were collectively swindled of thousands of dollars.
Detective Walter Chi said Thursday that so far, none of the victims reporting that their debit-card numbers were hacked was a local resident. He said the skimmer - a small electronic device that copies data from ATM cards or other automatic pay stations such as gas-station credit-card readers - was in place in the ATM lobby of a local bank from Dec. 22 to 29.
Chi declined to identify the Aspen bank where the skimmer was in place.
"They've been cooperative with us, and they've alerted all their customers," he said of the bank's officials. "To me, it's not a pertinent part of the investigation. They told us they've contacted all of the people who are potentially victims from this unit.
"We're not trying to hold anything back, but we understand the bank's concern for loss of income and trust in their facility."
Still, he advised people to look over their bank accounts, especially transactions since Dec. 22, for anything unusual. He said it was possible that other credit-card readers in the Aspen area might have been similarly compromised.
"We'd like people to go back and look over their bank statements and to continue to monitor their accounts," Chi said.
So far, the victims all are debit-card customers, Chi said. The skimmer gave the perpetrators access to not only the card numbers but the PINs, as well, because many of the transactions involved limited amounts of cash. Customers of ATMs should always cover the keypad when entering PINs at ATMs, he said.
"What we believe is there was a camera attached to the unit that recorded when they typed in their PIN," Chi said.
He said the amount stolen from the three accounts totaled less than $10,000. He has no leads in the case.
"The use of the cards that we can track so far, from the victims we've talked to, have reached as far as New York," Chi said. "But we also have uses at local grocery stores, ATMs in Snowmass Village, the El Jebel area and Avon, stores in Glenwood Springs and even Denver. If that's an indication of where they traveled, I don't know. That's just where we've seen the uses."
Chi said the system of using a skimmer to get debit-card and PIN numbers and then creating duplicate cards that can be used at ATMs and stores is fairly sophisticated. Also, the phony cards can be used to buy merchandise at stores that accept debit cards for face-to-face purchases but don't require PINs.
Aspen police found out about the thefts when the victims reported that their accounts had been cleaned out, he said.
Early last year, police said a skimmer may have been used in the Aspen area to gain credit- and debit-card numbers from unsuspecting customers of a store or some other institution. Chi said the department was not able to determine where a device had been set up; nor could investigators identify any suspects in those cases.
Those who suspect fraudulent activity on a bank account are urged to call the Aspen Police Department immediately at 970-920-5400 as well as the financial institution.