ATM Thieves Use "Skim Devices" to Rip Off Cardholders, Phoenix Cops Say

The crime is sophisticated and devious: You're tricked into swiping your card in a thieving cardreader planted over the real one. Meanwhile, the would-be Lex Luthors are watching you punch in your PIN with binoculars or cameras.

Phoenix cops say the movie-like scenario actually happens -- they call it "skimming" -- and they've released photos today of a suspect who withdrew "large amounts" of cash from ATMs while the victims still had their cards in their wallets. One victim had the good fortune to have checked his balance online and alert authorities before his account was drained.

Police say the thefts occurred between June 17 and July 29, at ATMS located at 7th Street and Union Hills and 34th Street and Bell Road.

We're going to put in some calls today to see if banks can tell us how much money they're losing because of this scam. It's hard to believe it's widespread -- tweakers simply aren't that patient, so it must be a special sort of criminal (or gang of criminals). Every now and then, you see one who appears to have a PhD in plundering.

But even if the numbers of folks doing this are low, the money they take could be quite high. We'll update this post once we know more.

In the meantime, cops want you to call Silent Witness if you know the dude in the pictures: (480) WITNESS.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.