Daniel and the ATM (a C-130 Story)

Daniel stumbled onto 15 minutes of fame last week when he discovered an ATM skimmer at a local convenience store and then decided to share the discovery on social media. Skimmers are used to capture data from the magnetic stripe on the back of ATM cards, and they usually involve a small device fastened by thieves over the top of the ATM’s real card reader.

Dan noticed something was amiss with the ATM reader and confirmed his suspicions when he was able to pry away the phony reader just enough to see the real card reader underneath. After calling police, he took photos of the phony device and then noticed an inconspicuous pinhole camera that had been glued above the keypad, presumably to collect the PINs of unsuspecting ATM users, a testament to the crafty (and insidious) nature of today’s high tech thieves—it’s bad enough they’re stealing your card data, but they’re taking your PIN as well.

Although he’d heard of skimmers before, Dan was none-the-less impressed by the sophistication of the skimmer he’d found and its companion piece, the pinhole camera. He removed the camera and found a chip in it, which he quickly downloaded. It contained blurred facial shots of a man and a women, who Dan believes installed the skimmer and camera in the ATM.

All the evidence was turned over to police including the photos, but Dan felt obliged to share the photos on social media and get the word out that these things are out there and can be hard to spot. But even Dan was surprised at how quickly his Facebook post went viral, having been shared thousands of times within 24 hours of posting it. Two days later, he was contacted by a local TV news station who did a story on Dan’s find; a few days later another television station also ran the story.

Many of the replies to Dan’s original FB post mentioned how observant he’d been to catch the inconspicuous devices in the first place, but that was no surprise to me or his mom. In fact, the whole episode was just the latest reminder of how Dan had always been a curious kids growing up.

For example, when Daniel was about 12 years old, we were flying in a USAF C-130 on what we called a Space-A flight from Okinawa to Korea. I was a Marine at the time and we were stationed on the island of Okinawa, Japan, and one of the perks of being stationed in Asia was the opportunity to catch flights aboard otherwise empty military aircraft, hence the term Space-A (or Available) flights, to other bases in the region.

The flight from Okinawa to Korea was a couple of hours long, and during the final approach into Osan Air Base, the C-130’s crew brought Dan into the flight station, something I suspect flight crews do often for kids aboard Space-A flights, and that’s when Dan looked down and noticed a crack in the plane’s windshield. He then pointed out the tiny crack to the flight crew, who immediately aborted the flight and took us all for an unplanned trip to mainland Japan, where unlike Osan that day, the air temps would allow the replacement windshield sealant to cure.

I remember being in the back of the plane with my wife and our other two kids, thinking we’d be landing soon, when Dan suddenly emerged from the flight station up front sporting a sheepish look on his face. He leaned in close to us, and over the loud drone of the aircraft’s four engines, told us how he thought he’d “broken the plane.”

When pressed about it, he explained the discovery of the crack but I wasn’t sure I believed it or not, until one of the crew emerged from the flight station and explained what had occurred. It obviously wasn’t Dan’s fault, and his find actually saved the use of that aircraft for the remaining missions that week. If it had landed in Osan where the air temps for the week were in the single digits, it would have been grounded there awaiting warmer weather before they could replace the cracked windshield.

After landing at Yokota Air Base in mainland Japan, we were shown the crack which was nothing more than a hairline fracture in the plexiglass, but Dan had been able to spot it while sitting in a jump seat next to the pilots, and it was apparently enough of a crack to ground the airplane.

The change in plans after Dan’s discovery was a set back to our Korean shopping trip, but sometimes life gives you lemons, and in the end we were able to make it to Korea the next day when we caught another Space-A flight to Osan, this time in a massive C-5 transport jet. We didn’t let Daniel go anywhere near the flight station.

When we learned of Dan’s compromised ATM find last week, for us it was just the most recent reminder of the fact that Dan’s always been an inquisitive kind of kid. That same inquisitive nature eventually led him to enlist in the Marine Corps where he became a helicopter crew chief, and later, coincidentally, an aircrewman aboard the mighty Marine Hercules, also known as a C-130.

Dan’s eagle eye discovery of the elicit ATM skimmer may have been a surprise to some on social media, but it wasn’t a surprise to me or his mom. Not one bit.

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Note: Here are Dan’s photos of the the ATM skimmer and pin-hole camera.


The photo on the left shows the skimmer; the one on the right the real ATM card reader. You can still see the marks left by the adhesive used to hold the skimmer onto the real reader.


To see all of Dan’s photos, click here for the original FB post:https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10155316308386578&set=pcb.10155316308596578&type=3&theater

To see one of the TV news stories about the ATM discovery, click on the link below the photos:



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