A beer-bellied man wearing loud beach shorts apparently looking to cash in on people's credit and debit cards is believed to be part of a gang responsible for ATM skimmer devices discovered at Publix Supermarkets along the state's east coast, authorities said Monday.
From Daytona Beach to Miami-Dade, the search is now on for the modern-day pickpocket and the band of skimming thieves.
Since Aug. 5, police in six different cities in four counties have reported cases of debit or credit card stealing devices being used at machines outside of seven Publix Supermarkets. The devices, known as skimmers, all appear to be molded, painted and designed to fit the supermarket chain's Presto ATMs.
In at least three of the cities, a man wearing Bermuda shorts with colorful patterns, a ball cap and sunglasses was seen on survelliance tapes working with other people in installing the high-tech pickpocket devices. The phony card readers are easily slipped over the machine's real card reader and scan information contained in the black strips on credit and debit cards.
In at least one of the cases, a pinhole camera that records people punching in PIN codes was found along with a skimmer.
Since Friday, skimmers have been found at Publixes in Coral Springs and Fort Lauderdale. In Daytona Beach, surveillance video shows a man installing what appears to be a skimmer and removing it hours later.
Daytona Beach police plan to compare notes with law enforcement agents in South Florida, agency spokesman Jimmy Flynt said Monday.
"We looked at the video from down there, and it looks a lot like the same individual," Flynt said. "We're going to have detectives talk to each other to see if this is the case."
In Broward, a skimmer was also discovered on an ATM at a Publix in Sea Ranch Lakes. Devices were also found in Boynton Beach in Palm Beach County and in Sunny Isles in Miami-Dade County.
Fort Lauderdale Police said the man with the colorful shorts resembled the man in the security videos from Sea Ranch Lakes and in Sunny Isles.
"The shorts remain the most common description between the cases," said agency spokeswoman Detective DeAnna Garcia.
Police in Coral Springs said surveillance video at two different Publix markets captured a different group working together to attach the devices. But spokesman Lt. Joe McHugh said they may all be members of the same ring.
"We believe this might all be related due to the fact that the skimmers are all the same, and that they are all suddenly popping up all around the area," McHugh said.
Brian Krebs, a former Washington Post reporter who now runs an high-tech security news blog Krebsonsecurity.com, said sophisticated "skimmer gangs" can be responsible for a sudden increase.
"It is not uncommon for a gang to rapidly deploy to different locations like that," he said. "Usually, it's the work of an organized crime."
Krebs said the skimmers can be easily obtained through the Internet but can cost several thousand dollars, depending on their sophistication.
Tyco Integrated Security, based in Boca Raton, manufactures anti-skimming devices and tracks skimming gangs all over the world.
Tracie Adkins, a manager at Tyco, said the gangs usually design a skimming device that fits a certain ATM, especially common machines like those at Publix Supermarkets. Then they go shopping.
"The gang typically moves into an area and all of a sudden you have a lot activity with those same type of machines," Adkins said. "Then they move on to other parts of the country. You can almost trace them as they move along the map."
The Presto ATMs at Publix Supermarkets don't have cameras on the machines, which could be a reason why they are being targeted, said McHugh.
Officials at Publix on Monday said in an email statement that they are working with local law enforcement officials and having managers routinely check the ATMs.
"While we've seen increased activity locally over the last month, this is an issue that affects retailers in general and is not Publix specific," wrote company spokeswoman Kim Reynolds.
There have been no reports of victims, all of the police agencies say. Anyone who used the ATMs within the past month should contact his banks, law enforcement officials advise.
The Secret Service, which is now working on the Florida cases, does not keep state statistics, but police say skimming is on the rise, especially in tourist areas.
Nationally, skimming cases have increased by 10 percent each year since 2008, according to the Secret Service.
Recent skimmer incidents in eastern Florida
Aug. 5 Surveillance video shows a man and woman working together to place a skimmer on ATM at the Publix at 18330 Collins Ave., Sunny Isles. Police said a skimmer and a camera were recovered.
Sept. 1 Manager of a Publix at 501 S.E. 18th Ave., Boynton Beach, found a skimmer on the ATM outside the store. On Aug. 16, a man matching a similar description was observed taking a one-minute recording of the ATM camera