San Leandro police warn of ATM 'shoulder surfing'

- Police in the East Bay are warning about a rise in the low-tech tactic of "shoulder surfing," where thieves peer over a customer's shoulder while they use the ATM to steal their pin numbers.

It’s not a brazen bank heist.  They don’t wear ski masks or threaten a teller.  These thieves just watch and wait.

“This is a very, very prevalent crime right now,” said San Leandro Lt. Robert McManus.

San Leandro Police is among other law enforcement agencies seeing fraudsters return to old-fashioned “shoulder surfing” to steal cash at ATMs.

Thieves watch a user and pick up on their passcode.

“The second you step away with the money in your hand and card back in your wallet, that suspect jumps over to the machine that you’ve been on and they re-engage your account and reopen it and they continue transactions.             

In San Leandro, the thieves have struck several machines starting on May 19th, when $1,300 was stolen from the Bank of America on East 14th street.

On July 2nd another $1,600 was swiped.

The same bank was hit again on September 26th and again on September 27th, but this time undercover officers were there, and arrested 33 year-old Blade Kittrell of Oakland.

“He was seen at the machine withdrawing money and acting suspiciously.  He was taken into custody and he had $665 cash,” Lt. McManus said.

Despite the arrest, the thefts continue.

On October 13th, $1000 was taken from an ATM at the Bank of America on Fairmont Drive.

‘I always look around first and see that there’s not a suspicious person,” said bank customer Lucila Santa Maria.

That’s exactly what officers encourage customers to do and be leery of anyone whose eyes are glued to your screen.

For their part, police plan a bigger presence at banks.

“We hope that deters crime itself, but if not, we might have some undercover officers that will be there to watch your back and to stop those criminals from offending,” Lt. McManus said.  

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