European security experts warn that a new method of stealing debit and credit card information could make its way to the United States very soon. According to the European ATM Security Team (EAST), increased attention to card skimming activity has driven identity thieves to resort to a strategy law enforcement officials call "card trapping" or "cash trapping."

European ATM tampering cases nearly double from 2010 figures

In a statement to reporters, EAST officials revealed that while less than a half percent of ATM fraud losses involved the practice, the technique had grown rapidly enough to affect nearly 7,000 cardholders in the first six months of the year. The rise of card trapping effectively doubled the overall number of ATM tampering incidents, compared to the same time period in 2011.

Instead of attempting to copy a credit card's details using a magnetic stripe reader or a hidden camera, a card trapping team uses adhesive tape, string, or even hair and gum to cause an ATM malfunction. An affected cash machine appears to "eat" a debit card or a credit card, sometimes without dispensing any money. In reality, the sticky substance traps a bank customer's card inside a card reader slot. Frustrated customers may abandon their cards, assuming that they can retrieve them during bank operating hours.

How "trappers" retrieve lost credit cards

After a cardholder leaves the affected ATM, the thief uses tweezers to pry the card from the reader slot. Some criminal teams attempt to make fraudulent purchases right away, using the credit card or debit card in their possession. However, EAST reports that more than three-quarters of both the skimming and trapping cases they have tracked involved teams that transmitted account information to accomplices across national borders, where cards can be used online, cloned for in-person use, or sold on the black market.

According to officials at PULSE, the debit card processing network owned by Discover Financial Services, most ATM fraud occurs when cardholders try to get cash in unfamiliar surroundings. Though card trapping may not rely on an obvious external device attached to a compromised cash machine, team members often loiter nearby or pose as customers waiting in line behind their targets. Therefore, PULSE advises its customers to use well-lit ATMs in clear view of passersby, police, and neighborhood security cameras. Thieves are far less likely to tamper with a very busy ATM in a public area.