by Chris Fallon
This past Saturday evening, my wife and I along with some friends were heading to the Rhode Island Convention Center to attend the Camping and RV show. We parked at the Providence Place Mall and walked across the skybridge that connects the mall to the Omni Providence Hotel and eventually leads to the Convention Center. When we reached the Omni Hotel directly across the skybridge, I spotted an ATM machine and decided to grab some cash. This particular ATM machine was the type that you insert the narrow end of your card into and then withdraw it quickly. The ATM machine instructed me to enter my pin. I made the transaction like I normally would and it dispensed the cash.
I noticed that something just didn’t feel right about the whole thing. I know that most of us have seen the items on the news that reports about credit and debit card skimmers, but they never fully describe what to look for, so I’m about to tell you what I felt.
We’ve all likely used the type of ATM machine that I used at a mall or a gas station or a restaurant. There was absolutely nothing special about it. This time was different though. As I slid my debit card into the machine, it felt like there was less of my card to grip between my finger and thumb. I know that might sound a bit strange, but if you’ve used an ATM machine enough, you should know what I mean. It felt like I had to slide the card in an extra 1/4 inch or so. Once the transaction was complete, I thought, let me just check. I pulled on the bottom of the plastic where my card slides in and it moved just a bit and actually pinched the tip of the ring finger on my right hand. At that point, I pulled really hard on the plastic card guide and it came off the front of the machine and into my hand. My wife asked “what the hell are you doing?” I said look and pointed to an exact replica of what was in my hand, it was still on the front of the ATM machine.
I could not believe what I was seeing and inspected the piece that was in my hand. It appeared as though the tiny electronic components and the two crude batteries had been soldered in by hand. There was a small blue LED and a microSD memory card, sort of like the type that is in your cellular telephone. To be honest, it almost seemed surreal, because you never expect to actually have this happen to you and better yet have your suspicion confirmed. I guess having been a Corrections Officer for so many years made me a bit more suspicious. I was able to remove the microSD memory card and I broke it into a few pieces, because I figured it had my information and the information of countless others on it. I brought the device to the lobby and the people at the desk called hotel security. The security officer took the device and I handed her a few of the memory card pieces. I only handed her a few, because as I stated, I’m suspicious, and now everyone is a suspect (not really, but you never know).
In any case, what I’d like to leave you with are these thoughts. The ATM did not look out of the ordinary. If something doesn’t feel right to you, take an extra moment to investigate it a bit further. The device was on the machine really tightly, I assume it had some type of light adhesive. There were cameras everywhere, but that didn’t seem to be a deterrent.
I am posting the actual photos that I took with my phone camera that evening so you can see what I saw. The good news is that I had no suspicious activity on my card, because it seemed to store the information on the microSD memory card. I’m not sure if they all work like that, but I figured that I would share my experience.