Protecting Yourself from Credit Card Skimming

Fraud comes in many forms such as identity theft, cyber crime and hacking, credit card and banking fraud, email schemes, skimming and more. As each year passes by it seems the fraudsters get more and more elaborate in their schemes to access our personal information and our finances.

Skimmed ATM
According to the FBI website, skimming typically involves the use of hidden cameras (top) to record customers’ PINs and phony keypads (right) placed over real keypads to record keystrokes. Photo credit:
The more elaborate scams can be fairly difficult to detect if you aren’t aware of them. One of the tougher schemes involves what is called credit and debit card skimming.

What is skimming?

Skimming involves the use of a credit card skimmer to collect information and data from the magnetic strips that can be found on the back of your ATM and credit cards. The identity thieves and scammers will then take the information obtained from your card’s magnetic strip and place it onto a new card by copying the information to it. This allows the criminal to then use the card and make either cash withdrawals or purchases in your name.

What is a credit card skimmer?

A credit card skimmer replaces the original card reader (where you swipe your card) with a counterfeit and often camouflaged credit and debit card reader. The phony reader is what is used to collect the data from your card. The more sophisticated fake readers can be difficult to detect.

It’s not just ATM’s that are targeted but even fuel pumps, restaurants, and virtually any other place that you swipe your card. Employees of businesses where you swipe your credit and debit cards have also been known to have pocket skimmers that record your information.

How can you prevent skimming fraud?

Look for evidence of a skimmer machines presence at an ATM or fuel pumps. Look for signs of tampering first. Often time skimmers are affixed to the machines with tape. I’ve made a habit of lightly pushing card readers to ensure they aren’t tampered with.

Look for inconsistencies such as visual cues that the machine or pumps don’t look aligned correctly with the card reader. If you have any doubts do not swipe your card. You can also call your banking institution and report the location or contact authorities if you believe the machine has been tampered with.

If you need to hand your card to an employee to swipe be sure to keep your card visible to you at all times. Don’t allow employees to take your card and instead pay as you are leaving if you are at a restaurant. This will help prevent an employee from skimming information off of your card.

Mostly it comes down to being vigilant and aware of how fraudsters are looking to take from you although sometimes even the most vigilant can become a victim.

What to do if you’ve become a victim of skimming?

Pay close attention to your banking records. If you see charges that don’t make sense and you believe weren’t authorized by you be sure to call your bank, regardless of the amount. You can have your banking institution review your purchases, close the card to further charging and issue you a replacement card. Many banks have the ability to provide you a replacement card at your branch. The quicker you can report fraud the better. Routine review of your banking statements will help keep you on top of your finances and the protection of your identity.

Bottom line is scams aren’t going away anytime soon. The fact is they will become more complex and you’ll want to stay up to date with current scams. Be sure to check in with services such as the Better Business Bureau or the Federal Trade Commission.

Rick Munster Rick Munster

AFCPE Accredited Credit Counselor

Helping others learn to live debt free for 14 years and counting!

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