ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) - Hidden among thousands of visitors to the St. Louis area are those here for other reasons. They are unwanted tourists, and they’re on the radar of Maryland Heights Detective Shawn Fanning.
Det. Fanning explained, “The unwanted tourists, what they do is come in with credit cards that have been stolen or compromised from the St. Louis area and they`re using those cards here in St. Louis (to avoid) getting caught.”
Like two suspects caught on surveillance cameras leaving a Target store in Town and Country, MO. They reportedly used “cloned” credit cards.
Still unidentified, they`re believed to be small cogs in an international web. Det. Fanning says the criminals communicate online, selling information to Eastern Europe and back.
It often begins with a suspect who secretly attaches credit card skimmers on gas pumps. O’Fallon police continue looking for a suspect, caught on surveillance, believed to have attached several skimmers.
Newer skimmer technology isn’t on the outside where you can see it. Thieves are now hiding the technology inside gas pumps with wired connections.
Det. Fanning talked about how quickly the crooks can attach it. He said, “It takes under 30 seconds. Usually you can do it in 10 to 12 seconds if you know what you`re doing and these guys know what they’re doing.”
They might pull up in a truck to block what they`re doing and hide from surveillance cameras or store clerks. Once they attach the skimmer they may not go far. They often must stay within range of a blue tooth connection, capturing data from every card that swipes, then selling it on the dark web to criminals overseas.
Det. Fanning added, “That guy buys them and he resells them. He resells them to guys who make their own credit cards. One of the biggest things being purchased right now Chris, are gift cards.”
That means your credit card data has made a trip around the world and back in a St. Louis motel room to avoid fraud detection. It won`t raise as much suspicion if your stolen purchases are happening in your home town. The unwanted tourists use the gift cards they bought or stole and they turn them into your credit card. They use an assembly line of digital encoders and embossers. They can put any name with any credit card number they`ve stolen and spend away.
Det. Fanning said, “A lot of times the last four digits that`s on the face of the card won`t match the last four digits that`s on the receipt. We`ve done training with our hotels. We`ve done training with a lot of our businesses here in Maryland Heights that that`s something to look for.”
This is why you now have a chip on your credit card. Sometimes called a smart card, the chip stores your data on integrated circuits in addition to the magnetic strip.
Computer forensic investigator Vinny Troia told us, “The idea behind the chip is that you can`t imprint that number onto another card because it`s supposed to randomize it.”
Troia, who’s sometimes referred to as an ethical hacker, operates Nightlion Security. He explained, “In the event that the merchant accepts chips or has the ability to process cards with chips then it prevents a fake card from being used, but with any of the merchants who don`t have that technology yet you can still imprint the number.”
You`ll find a ton of stores that still won't accept the chip. Some retailers have tape over their terminals or say “not chip ready.” Yet they`re required to use it now. That means individual stores, rather than the banks, will start paying for fraud that happens when somebody swipes rather than chips.
Troia believes a third alternative is safest. He uses his phone to pay. He said, “With every transmission you`re talking about a different randomized string so it`s much more difficult to hack.”
Keep in mind these shadow thieves are using technology that`s evolving as quickly as your smart phone. There`s one place in the nation that Detective Fanning says seems to be attracting the most skimming devices at the moment- Florida. He says to be cautious everywhere, but Florida is getting a lot of hits now. When you go on vacation, consider asking your credit card company to give you a special card that you will use only during your vacation and that will expire shortly after your return.
Follow Fox 2’s Chris Hayes on Twitter @ChrisHayesTV