LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Crooks are getting more creative when it comes to stealing your identity and financial information.

Nicole McCormack of Tarzana said she has had her information “skimmed” seven or eight times in the past two years and has lost $10,000.

Even though insurance has covered those losses, it is still a major hassle.

“My card is immediately shut off. So there I am without my debit card for five to seven days,” McCormack said. “The worst part of it though is I have that tied to so many things these days – whether it’s automatic bill pay or renewal of a gym membership or whatever it is. So now, I have to go in every single time and redo all of that.”

McCormack said she tries to pay with cash whenever she can now and believes this won’t be her last fight with fraud. “I’m trying to be careful. But who knows where else it will happen next.”

Economic Crimes Investigator Matthew LeFlore at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department said skimming is “the least intrusive and quickest way to take somebody’s money from their bank.”

He said skimming can happen almost anywhere, but the most popular spots are at ATMs and gas stations.

“This is the home-manufactured skimming device you’d find inside of a gas station pump,” LeFlore said as he showed a skimmer that looked like a belt. “This would plug into where the terminal would normally use it, and this plugs in at the other end at the pay-at-the-point system. And right there, you’re done. That’s it.”

LeFlore said thieves often access the machines with stolen keys, and many have moved on to using Bluetooth technology to transmit information from the pump to a laptop or tablet hidden in a nearby vehicle.

To avoid becoming a victim, he advised before swiping, check for anything that looks out of place or damaged. And make sure the tamper sticker is intact.

“Your money is important to you. Take your time and make sure there’s nothing suspicious before you give your money away,” LeFlore said.

Fraud experts also suggest filling up at the pump closest to the cashier. Criminals are less likely to try and apply a skimmer right in front of the attendant.

If you have a story you think Jeff Vaughn should look into, email him at CheckwithJeff@CBSLA.com or contact him using #CBSLA.

Comments (6)
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  2. Dean Penderghast says:

    There’s an easy way to prevent credit card fraud or mitigate it. It’s easy to follow BUT you need to be diligent about following these rules:

    1. DO NOT USE YOUR DEBIT CARD, PERIOD! Your Debit card is very weak in security and is directly tied to your checking account. Even if your debit card has a Visa/MC logo on it, do not use it. The only time you should be using your debit card is to make your deposit INSIDE the bank or withdraw money from YOUR bank’s ATM machine.

    2. DO NOT USE OUTSIDE ATM MACHINES OR 3RD PARTY ATM MACHINES. Yea i know, you’re at the store and you need $20, so you go over to that ATM machine inside the liquor store to pull $20. Those machines are almost always rigged! Only use ATM machines that are located INSIDE your bank’s lobby or inside another bank’s lobby. Personally I always pull on the ATM reader first to see if it pops off or moves. If it wiggles or moves, then I let the branch manager know and move to another machine.

    3. SEPARATE PAYMENTS INTO SEPARATE CARDS. You should have one credit card setup for all of your automatic online bill payments and only use that card for that reason. Have a second credit card for your shopping and/or dining. We use three different credit cards here – one for our online bill payments and recurring payments that never leaves the house, one for our everyday shopping and a third card for Costco and Costco gas. Again, these are separate credit cards, not debit cards.

    4. KEEP YOUR CREDIT LIMITS LOW. But won’t that hurt my credit score? Yes and no. Having 10 cards with a $500 credit limit each vs 1 card with a $5000 credit limit is the same on your credit history. For the cards that you use for shopping and gas, keep those credit limits low. The card that has a high credit limit should be used for your automatic bill payments and monthly charges. Also another benefit by keeping the lower credit limit cards on you is that you will also keep your debt down too. That’s because you’re less likely to purchase an item if you don’t have the funds. Need to purchase something big, then you’ll need to physically think about getting that larger card before leaving the house which gives you that one last time to ask “Do I really need this?”

    5. GAS STATION CHECK – IS THE SECURITY TAPE TAMPERED? Like the articled said, most machines that use credit cards all have some type of tape on it to show when it was last opened, especially gas stations and ATM machines. Always look for that tape and make sure it’s not messed with. If you think something isn’t right, then change to another pump. Also go to gas stations that are always busy like Costco, Sams Club or your local grocery store.

    Credit Card fraud prevention always starts with you. The more you can separate your credit car purchases from your bank account, the better off you will be.

    Hope this helps.

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