RALEIGH, N.C. (12/31/09)--A grinch--or a group of grinches--siphoned off cash from the credit/debit card accounts of hundreds of credit union members and customers of other financial institutions in North Carolina last week by using skimming devices at gasoline stations. And a credit union used media interest in the fraud as an opportunity to educate consumers. The alert was made by State Employees' CU, based in Raleigh, which said the fraud began showing up on members' accounts early last week. About 300 members were affected but more fraud reports were still being reported to authorities at press time Wednesday (News Observer Dec. 30). Police said the fraud had spread to member/customers of other financial institutions--likely anyone using a card at a gas pump--throughout North Carolina's Triangle area of Raleigh, Durham and Winston-Salem. Some cards in other states were affected, said the News-Observer. The credit union released surveillance photos of six suspects using disguised skimmers at various stations. All were male and wore billed hats to make identification more difficult. It also viewed it as an opportunity to provide good consumer education information to the community at large via local media, said SECU in a press release. It invited all four major Raleigh, N.C., televisions station to create consumer segments on how card skimming fraud occurs. The credit union informed consumers about skimming and stressed that card fraud victims are not held liable for a fraud on their account. It also provided safety tips to help prevent fraudulent activity. Leanne Phelps, senior vice president of SECU's card and record services department, noted that SECU "has always been very proactive in dealing with potential fraudulent activity on credit union-issued cards. SECU continues to reissue cards whenever even a remote possibility exists that a card has been compromised." Informing members and enlisting their help often has led to the arrest of those perpetrating the fraud. "Members really don't like it when folks 'mess with' their credit union and their money," Phelps said. SECU Security Officer Cory Mathes said that fraud "does impose an expensive, unnecessary cost on the membership as a whole." With fraud and compromised cards growing, "it's more important than ever that consumers are educated on the practice of 'skimming' at gas pumps and other point-of-sale terminals," Mathes said. Skimming devices record data from magnetic strips on the back of the debit or credit card. The devices, often disguised, are placed on card machines to collect data and enable thieves to create counterfeit cards. They often are coupled with a miniature camera to record victims as they key in their personal identification number (PIN) (WNCT.com Dec. 30). SECU advised members to pay careful attention to their account activity and credit card statements, and report any irregularities to the police (WRAL.com Dec. 28). Phelps told the station that consumers using card reading devices should look for anything unusual. Skimming devices on ATMs are easier to find, although they may be color coordinated with the machine. Devices on gas pumps are often hidden on the inside, making detection by the consumer impossible.