Action 9

Debit card shimmers: The criminal devices that could be in ATMs

ORLANDO, Fla. — For years, crooks have used credit card skimmers to try to steal your credit and debit card information, but now, so-called “shimmers” or “super skimmers” are becoming more popular among thieves.


In our busy lives, swiping a card to make a payment or a banking transaction is just part of the routine.

That’s the way it was for Elaine Fischer, until recently she realized two withdrawals totaling $1000 had been made from her credit union account.

“I just sat there stunned, because like, how is this money taken out of my account when I haven’t left the house and my card is right here in my hand,” she said.

Fischer found a way to lock her account online and then notified the credit union, which launched an investigation.

Read: Credit card skimmers: How to keep your money safe

She told Action 9, “Well, they do ask you a lot of questions…. ‘Have you lent your card to anybody? Does anybody else know your pin number?’”

It turns out she wasn’t the only victim. There had been hundreds. Scammers hit a handful of ATMs in one weekend using information from what’s called a shimmer.

Chris Hansen with the secret service described how shimmers work and showed an example of the shiny paper-thin devices.

While giving the demonstration Hansen said, “This basically just gets inserted into the mouth of an ATM where you put the card in.”

Read: ‘Refund my money’: Consumer frustrated with mobile trading app, $3,000 taken from account

The device is so thin your card can still slide into the machine with it inserted. It’s harder to detect than the bulky overlay skimmers we’ve seen for years and the shimmer reads the information off your card’s magnetic stripe. That makes you vulnerable even if you use a chip card.

“A shimmer is specific to a type of device we’ve seen in ATMs where people are inserting this device into the place where you put your credit card in,” Hansen said.

The shimmer is usually coupled with a small pinhole camera installed near the keypad to capture your PIN as you type it in.

Elaine’s credit union shared video of a masked and gloved man walking up to an ATM to make the installation. In the video, it appears the man installed the camera first. Then moments later he inserted the thin silver shimmer into the slot. The entire installation process took about a minute.

Read: Scammers stealing from family, friends after hacking your Facebook account; How to protect yourself

“So, now they’ve got both pieces of the equation, right? They have the card number and they have the PIN. And with those two pieces of information, unfortunately, they can make a new card and get to using it,” said Ann Flanigan, a representative from the credit union.

But Flanigan pointed out it’s rare to find shimmers on the financial institution’s property like they saw in this case. More often they’re at ATMs in more remote places or at gas stations.

Still, it remains a cat and mouse game as financial institutions and law enforcement work to catch up with the evolving technology deployed by criminals to try to get your money.

“Yes, it is unnerving. Yeah, it is unnerving,” said Elaine Fischer.

It helps if consumers take steps to protect their own accounts. It’s best to cover the keypad when typing in the PIN, make sure to check your account on a regular basis and report any suspicious transactions to your financial institution right away.

Click here to download our free news, weather and smart TV apps. And click here to stream Channel 9 Eyewitness News live.

Jeff Deal

Jeff Deal,

I joined the Eyewitness News team as a reporter in 2006.