Nick Elvitsky had his debit card with him the entire week before it happened. And he certainly never shared his pin number with anyone.
That's why it came as a surprise to the Mountain View resident when $500 was deducted from his account at the Washington Mutual ATM on El Camino Real on Jan. 26.
"I did not take that money out," Elvitsky explained in an e-mail to the Voice. "I have been a victim of a crime they call 'skimming,' where a fake ATM card reader is placed in front of a legitimate one and you are secretly recorded typing in your pin."
The police are now investigating the case and agree that Elvitsky is a victim of skimming. In this scam, thieves create an electronic device which they attach to a card reader such as an ATM. When someone comes along to use the machine, that person's card information and pin number are recorded by the device, which is then used to make a replica card.
Elvitsky had not been to that Washington Mutual recently, according to police, and his card was not skimmed there. It was skimmed elsewhere, and the replica card used to take out cash at the WaMu.
Mountain View police are looking into one other local skimming incident, but say Elvitsky's case is isolated and not part of a rash of such crimes here. In March of last year, however, 40 Los Altos residents were victims of card fraud after someone recorded debit card information from customers at the Arco AM/PM on San Antonio Road. Police say that crime spree did not make its way to Mountain View.
Mountain View police spokesperson Liz Wylie said detectives are looking into the two ATM fraud cases in Mountain View, but said it's difficult to pinpoint where exactly the cards were originally skimmed.
"They have to find out where it happened, which is like looking for a needle in a haystack," Wylie said.
Skimmers -- the small devices used to perpetrate the crime -- can be bought online, and usually blend in when attached to ATM reader slots. "The machine would look totally normal to your eyes," Wylie said.
Usually a small camera is placed above the key pad to catch the victim's pin number. After obtaining the bank account information off the victim's magnetic strip, along with the pin number, thieves upload the stolen data onto a computer and replicate the information on any card with a magnetic strip, such as the electronic key-cards used in hotels.
Police say skimmers are often attached to isolated machines at gas stations or stand-alone machines not attached to banks. Wylie suggests that customers cover the key pad while entering their pin and also wiggle the ATM slot before sliding their card through.
"If it is loose, something is wrong," Wylie said. "Report it and don't stick your card in the slot."
Wylie said customers also should also be aware of skimming while eating in restaurants. Since skimmers are so small, Wylie said, waiters and waitresses can carry them in their pockets and record the debit or credit card information when the customer pays.
This type of skimming is hard to prevent, Wylie said, since the waiter or waitress often leaves the table to process the transaction.
"The recommendation is to bring cash. Don't use your ATM card," she said. "That would be the best way."
HOW TO PREVENT SKIMMING:
* When using an ATM, wiggle the slot before sliding in your ATM card; if it is loose, do not use the machine and report the problem
* Cover the keypad when typing in your pin numbers at an ATM
* Pay with cash at restaurants