This is the beginning of our holiday season and soon the cash registers will be humming with sales as we begin buying Christmas presents for our friends and family. We tend to swipe our cards more this time of year than any other. We also travel more so in turn we are visiting gas pumps a lot more often.
Every year around this time the scammers and thieves began to really come out full force. It is a time that most people are feeling a little more generous, and are deviating from their normal schedules to buy gifts, visit shops, and travel to visit family.
It isn’t just our kind hearts that thieves are looking to cash in on though. They realize we are vulnerable to theft by shopping in places we do not frequent on a regular basis.
Beware of Credit Card Skimming Devices
Credit card skimming is a type of credit card theft where crooks use a small device to steal your credit card information while you transact in an otherwise legitimate purchase. Credit card skimmers isn’t new by any means but it is so effective, thieves are still using it to steal over a billion dollars every year!
When your card is swiped through a skimmer, the skimmer captures the information stored in your card’s magnetic stripe. This stripe contains everything needed for the criminal to make fraudulent charges on your behalf.
Skimmers are usually placed over the card swipe mechanisms on ATMs and gas pumps but they can be placed over almost any type of credit card reader. When found on ATMs, small cameras have also been found so your pin number is recorded and they can then counterfeit your card and make cash withdrawals themselves.
Victims of credit card skimming are often unaware they’ve been exposed until they notice the charges on their accounts that they didn’t make. Sometimes this doesn’t happen until their card is declined or they get an overdraft notice.
So, you’re safe because your card has an EMV chip? Think again! Thieves have figured this out as well. It is called “Shimming” and works kind of the same way. They insert a “Shim” into the slot where you’ll place your card and it collects data the same way.
Now, they won’t be able to create a chipped version of your card and use it but they can create a magstripe version and use that just the same.
How To Spot A Card Skimmer
Skimming devices are designed to blend in seamlessly with the machine it is attached to. Unless you are actively looking for a skimming device, you probably wouldn’t even notice it.
You should be vigilant anytime you swipe your card but especially at gas pumps and ATMs. We often find ourselves shopping and doing business in the same places. This can play to our advantage here. Become familiar with the look and feel of the regular credit card readers you use on a daily basis. This will help you detect when something is not quite right.
Does the credit card reader stick out a bit further than it should? These skimmers are designed to fit over top of the existing credit card reader so this can be the first sign that the reader has been compromised.
If you’re at a gas pump and your reader looks suspicious, walk to a couple other pumps nearby. Compare it to how those pumps look. As an added tip, pumps with readers that are further away from the store or otherwise harder for employees to notice are more likely to be targeted.
Do parts of the reader seem loose or move when jiggled? Credit card readers should be secured in place. Moving or loose parts can be a sign that it has been tampered with.
Is the pin pad thicker than normal? In addition to a skimming device, thieves may place a fake keypad on top of the actual pad so they can capture your input. If the keys seem hard to push, think about using another machine.
Tips To Prevent Credit Card Skimming
Banks are becoming increasingly better at detecting fraudulent transactions and may not even process suspicious activity until they verify that it is you.
Just using your card puts you at risk and incidents can be difficult to detect. Unless you know what you’re looking for some skimmers can be near impossible to detect at all. Catching fraudulent charges related to a skimmer requires you to monitor your account frequently. You should monitor your activity at a minimum of weekly, but obviously, the more the better. Nowadays, most banks have online banking and this can make monitoring your account daily pretty easy to do in just a couple of minutes each day.
Watch where you shop. Restaurants, bars, and gas stations seem to be the places where credit card issues happen most frequently. Retail store self-checkouts and ATMs (especially ATMs that aren’t at the bank) are also places skimmers are often found.
Check ATMs before using them. As mentioned earlier, at ATMs, skimmers are often accompanied by a small, hard-to-detect camera. It is a good idea to use your free hand to cover the screen when entering your pin number.
This one seems obvious but people have fallen victim to it in the past so it is worth mentioning here. Don’t fall victim to “credit card cleaning” scams. Scammers will offer to “clean” or “repair” the magnetic stripe in your credit card and run it through a skimmer themselves.
Report a Skimming Incident
If you think you may have been a victim of credit card skimming, immediately contact your bank/card issuer. This applies even if you haven’t noticed fraudulent charges yet. It is better safe than sorry.
The sooner you report the issue the more likely you’ll be able to shield yourself from liability. You should provide as much detail as possible about the location of the skimmer, the location of the ATM, or the gas pump you visited. This can help the bank prevent future losses.
We’d like to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving and remind you that if you remain vigilant this holiday season you will dramatically reduce your chances of falling victim to a credit card skimmer scam.