Crooks find new way to steal personal information

Authorities say these new techniques are becoming increasingly sophisticated

By Andy Cerota - Anchor/Reporter

HOUSTON - It starts as dinner at a restaurant, but often times ends up as a costly identity theft mistake. It's called "skimming," and a Houston area woman suspects it happened to her.

"He could have totally wiped me out," said Annette. "I just couldn't believe that somebody could take your money that you work for everyday."

She's talking about an unidentified man who was caught on surveillance at a Houston-area Walmart.

Police said he went on a shopping spree, buying gift cards with a counterfeit debit card that had Annette's account number on it. Fortunately for her, she checks her online bank statements daily.

"I was like I have not been to a Walmart, so who's charging Walmart charges on my card," asked Annette.

Police believe her debit card was "skimmed," a technique where thieves swipe your debit or credit card through a card reader that records and steals the information from its magnetic strip. It commonly happens at restaurants, gas station and ATMs.

"What they'll do is take it and unload those numbers out of that black box and they have computer software and will disseminate to various criminal vendors," said Sgt. Michael Ellison of the Harris County Sheriff's Office.

Annette discovered the suspect didn't make just one trip to the store.

"He did it three times," she said. "He got away with two of them. On the third transaction it was declined."

Authorities said skimming techniques are becoming increasingly sophisticated. While it's difficult to know when or where your card was skimmed, keep in mind if you hand your card over to somebody at a restaurant or any other type of business, it only takes a second to swipe your card if you look the other way.

"I just want to protect everybody else in the public so this doesn't happen to them," Annette said.

If you have any information about this case you're asked to call the Harris County Sheriff's Office at 713-967-5773.

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