Be alert for scams and thieves this holiday season, Portland Police officers say.

The Portland Police Bureau is reminding community members to safeguard their personal banking information this holiday shopping season to ensure everything remains jolly.

Thieves and scammers attempt to obtain access to consumer bank accounts or credit card information online or by watching customers use their Personal Identification Number (PIN) at retail establishments and ATMs.

According to police, thieves will sometimes use skimming devices to steal banking information. Skimmers capture credit and debit card information from the card's magnetic strip. The devices may be designed to fit over card readers and often blend in with the machine. They also could be installed inside the terminal or plugged into the machine's network cables. Skimmers are usually left on a machine for a brief period before they are found and removed.

To intercept pin numbers, thieves will also attach pinhole and other cameras to observe customers inputting their codes. With the stolen information, they are able to create counterfeit cards and drain victim's accounts.

Investigators warn the places most at risk for this type of theft are card readers with minimal security, gas stations outside of Oregon with no attendants, exterior ATMs and restaurants. Police advise customers to pay attention to the machine and what's around the area. If something doesn't look right, don't use it.

Here are some tips the police say to keep in mind while using ATMs and other payment terminals:

• Use cash when possible or when you are unsure of the equipment used to conduct the transaction.

• If the card reader appears askew, jiggle it to see if it comes off.

• Review your bank and credit card transactions frequently and report unauthorized charges immediately.

• Avoid using your pin code on transactions when possible.

• Use your hand to shield your pin code as you input it into a keypad in case there is a camera.

If during your holiday shopping you identify a skimmer on a machine, talk to the clerk. The police should also be contacted at the non-emergency number. Be careful not to touch the backside of the skimmer as it may contain DNA evidence or fingerprints.

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