November 3, 2017

Protecting Consumers and Punishing Identify Thieves

When out-of-state thieves hit Shawano with credit card skimmers in 2016, I knew action was necessary. I had heard of other states being affected by skimmers, but wasn’t aware of how large this problem truly is. That’s why I authored and passed a bill to combat the use of credit card skimmers in our communities.

Credit card skimmers are devices that may be quickly and discreetly installed in or over credit card readers on gas pumps and ATMs. When a customer swipes a credit or debit card, their financial information is stored and can be retrieved in-person or remotely. This often occurs without you even realizing until fraudulent charges have occurred on your account.

Wisconsin has been a frequent target of criminals using credit card skimmers. Since the first skimmer was discovered in Wisconsin, countless residents in over 25 communities across the state have felt the impact of having their personal information in the hands of crooks. Despite the large scope of this problem, prior to this summer, Wisconsin was amongst a minority of states that hadn’t enacted criminal penalties specific to skimmers.

We changed that. Working with my co-author Representative Summerfield (R-Bloomer), Senate Bill 133 recently became law. This legislation, which earned strong, bipartisan support, ensures that law enforcement and prosecutors have the legal authority they need to stop criminals before they place credit card skimmers and to properly punish thieves for stealing personal information.

After the bill overwhelmingly passed both houses of the legislature and was signed into law by the Governor, the Department of Justice started disseminating information on these new penalties to law enforcement and prosecutors with the Statewide Prosecutors Education and Training Program.

The new law, which is supported by law enforcement, prosecutors, and gas station owners, enacts penalties on the possession, trafficking, and attempted use of a skimmer with criminal intent, and gaining something of value from the use of a skimmer. Prior to these laws, prosecutors were often reliant on statutes where the punishment didn’t meet the crime.

In recent weeks, police officers have found skimmers on bank ATMs in Green Bay and Appleton. If police are able to find the thieves, this law will ensure that prosecutors have the criminal statutes required to punish these thieves and help deter future criminal activity from others who may engage in skimming.

There are a few routine practices that you can do to help protect yourself from skimmers. When you’re at the gas pump or ATM, check the credit card scanner to see if it’s loose, if it looks different from the surrounding machines, or if the seal or lock on the gas pump or ATM is broken. If you find anything unusual, be sure to report details to the attendant or the police.

While this bill will ensure that law enforcement and prosecutors are able to properly punish criminals, just remember that at any time you may be the target of identify thieves.

Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) is the state Senator for Wisconsin’s 2nd Senate District, covering portions of Brown, Outagamie, Shawano and Waupaca counties.