Jul. 22--Patience is not always virtuous.

Last summer, thieves skimmed debit card information from a South Hill gas station. Then, nearly a year later, over the July 4th weekend, they withdrew tens of thousands of dollars from Pierce County residents' bank accounts, Pierce County sheriff's officials said.

By waiting, the thieves can be pretty sure surveillance videos showing them will have been erased. And by making their ATM withdrawals over a holiday weekend, it created an extra day before banks realized something was amiss, said sheriff's spokesman Ed Troyer.

Detectives have identified about 75 victims, including cases reported to Tacoma police, and expect many more may be out there, he said.

Some victims lost several hundred dollars, others lost thousands. Troyer said the total would be in the tens of thousands.

"Someone might have only had $500 in their account, but the bank lets them take out $3,000 because of overdraft protection," Troyer said.

By comparing the bank statements of the victims, investigators believe the cards were skimmed from the ARCO station at 11608 Meridian East last August.
"We don't know if they have more cards and are planning to do another round," Troyer said. Anyone who used a debit card at the station in August 2007 should get the card replaced, he said.

The thieves used an electronic device that records debit card numbers and PIN information, he said. People should be on the lookout for card readers that don't look right or keypads that have been placed over existing ones, Troyer said.

While these types of scams are sophisticated, the electronic components are relatively easy to come by. The next generation of electronic theft, which taps into Bluetooth and wireless technology, is even scarier, Troyer said.

In February, News Tribune food columnist Ed Murrieta blogged about a waitress suspected in skimming customers' cards with a hand-held device.

Anyone with information about the ATM thefts is urged to call Tacoma-Pierce County Crime Stoppers 253-591-5959.
Ian Demsky: 253-597-8872

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