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Bluetooth tech creeping into credit card skimmers’ toolkit

OKLAHOMA CITY - Thieves sabotaging gas pump card readers or ATMs for consumer's card information isn't new.

But a piece of technology many people use on a daily basis is also being used by some criminals to make it more convenient for them: Bluetooth Technology.

"As computers get faster, as Bluetooth technologies come into play, it’s been able to amass more data, pass more data and access that data around the world," said U.S. Secret Service Agent David Thompson, the Assistant Special Agent in Charge of the Oklahoma City field office.

That data is your credit card information, posted online, re-loaded onto blank credit cards or the card numbers and PIN for online purchases.

According to an identity fraud study from earlier this year, criminals took $16 billion from consumers in 2016.

"Billions of dollars. Every year consumers are being defrauded," said Thompson.

Thompson says some skimming devices can be bought on the internet. The non-wireless skimmers require the thief to return to retrieve the data, which can be risky.

While many of the devices being confiscated from ATMs or gas pumps are simple devices, Thompson says there are some cases where criminals are using Bluetooth technology -- a wireless data transfer technology -- to wirelessly recover the stolen data.

"They can pull up, download this data and it could be a month or two before they even use the data," said Thompson. "We have tracked teams that have gone from Miami, Dallas, to Oklahoma City, on to Las Vegas and California. These teams, they’ll send out the first team that will install these skimmers. Then another team will come behind them, pull the skimmers off of the gas pumps, then a third team will actually do the ‘spend.’”

A thief only has to be within a certain distance to connect to the device. While not prevalent, the technology is being found on the streets.

In June, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol stopped a vehicle on I-40. Court documents say troopers found electronics for Bluetooth devices and a magnetic strip card encoders.

The two men, Gor Krkhyan, 34, and Vacho Shahen, 32, were arrested for identity theft, use of a computer in commission of a felony and conspiracy to commit fraud. Shahen was currently out on bond for federal charges, accused of skimming and cloning credit cards.

While carrying cash can remove some of the risk, some experts say credit is still the way to go.

"If their credit card is stolen, then they're going to be able to recover that money," said Jane Haskin with the Oklahoma Society of CPAs and former president of First Bethany Bank.

"If cash is stolen from an individual, it’s gone," she said. "That’s why everyone must be vigilant and look at their accounts."

There are some tips that can help prevent you from becoming a victim: use common sense, if an ATM or gas pump card terminal seems odd or strange, don't use it; be aware of your surroundings; if you spot odd or possibly fraudulent activity on your accounts, call your local police department.