In the wake of data breaches at Target, Home Depot, and other retailers, it’s more important than ever to be vigilant about protecting your personal information. One way to do that is to be on the lookout for credit card skimmers when you’re out shopping. If you know how to spot them, you can avoid becoming a victim. In this article, we’ll discuss some tips for detecting and avoiding credit card skimmers. Let’s get started!
What Is a Credit Card Skimmer?
Credit card skimmers are devices used by thieves to steal credit card information from unsuspecting victims. The skimmer is attached to card readers at gas stations or other places where people use their credit cards.
The skimmer reads the credit card information as the victim inserts their card into the card reader. The thief then has the stolen credit card information and can use it to make fraudulent purchases.
How Do Skimmers Steal Credit Card and Debit Card Information?
Thieves use skimming devices attached to card readers to steal credit card and debit card information. The skimmer is placed over the card reader on an ATM or other machine and reads the data from the magnetic strip on the card. The thief can then use the information to create a counterfeit card or to access the account associated with the card.
What Are the Risks of Skimmers to Credit and Debit Cards?
Skimmers are a risk to both credit and debit cards when used at the gas pump and other locations. Gas pump skimmers are small devices that can be attached to the credit card reader on the pump, which can collect data from the magnetic strip on the card.
This data can be used to clone the card or to access the bank account associated with the card. 35.4% of all U.S. credit card fraud is related to counterfeit credit cards.
Top Ways to Spot a Credit or Debit Card Skimmer
Now that you know what a skimmer is and how it works, let’s take a look at some of the top ways to spot card skimming devices at the ATM, gas station, or other places:
1. Look for anything unusual
Check for anything that looks out of place or different than usual. If something about the card reader looks different than other machines you’ve used, it could be a sign that it’s been tampered with. Something common to look out for on card skimmers is a small, hidden camera. The thief may place the camera near the keypad to capture your PIN number as you enter it.
2. Inspect closely
Inspect the ATM or credit card terminal for any loose, crooked, or damaged pieces. If you see anything suspicious, do not use the machine because it could have a skimmer attached. And if you suspect that your card has been skimmed, report it to your bank or credit card issuer immediately.
3. Check the keypad
See if the keypad feels spongy or loose when you press the buttons. This is another sign that the machine may have been tampered with. When the keypad feels different, it could mean that there’s a skimming device attached to it.
4. Gas pump security tape or sticker
When you are at the gas pump, check for a security tape or sticker over the card reader. This is usually a sign that the pump has been inspected and approved by the gas station. If the security seal is broken or missing, do not use that pump because it means a thief may have tampered with it.
5. Feel around the reader
Sometimes a skimmer will be attached to the card reader with double-sided tape. If you feel around the reader, you may be able to detect a raised or uneven surface. This is another sign that the machine may have been tampered with.
Useful Ways to Avoid a Credit Card Skimmer
Now that you know how to spot a credit card skimming device, let’s take a look at some useful ways to avoid them:
6. Use credit instead of debit
When possible, use credit instead of debit at gas stations or ATMs. Credit cards have more fraud protections from credit card companies than debit cards, so you’re less likely to be held responsible for any fraudulent charges. This will give you peace of mind knowing that you’re not at risk of losing your hard-earned money.
7. Use your hand to cover your PIN
When entering your PIN, use your hand to cover the keypad so that any hidden cameras can’t see it. As mentioned earlier in this article, skimming devices often include a small camera to capture your PIN number. By covering the keypad, you can prevent the thief from getting your PIN number.
8. Choose your ATM wisely
Be wary of ATMs in dimly lit areas or places where there aren’t many people around. These are ideal conditions for skimmers to operate undetected. By being in an area that’s not well-lit or populated, the thief has a lower chance of being caught.
9. Trust your gut
Pay attention to your surroundings and trust your gut – if something about the ATM feels off, cancel the transaction and report it to the bank immediately. It’s much better to be safe than sorry. If you need to pull out cash, simply go to a different ATM.
10. Download a skimmer scanner
Download a skimmer-detecting app like “Skimmer Scanner” before using an ATM so you can check for Bluetooth devices that may be present lurking nearby. You can find skimmer-detecting apps in both the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store.
Can a Card Reader Skimmer Read a Chip Card?
Chip-enabled cards are less vulnerable to skimming at ATMs, gas pumps, and other places because the information on the chip is more difficult to copy. However, it’s still possible for thieves to skim chip cards if they have the right equipment.
To avoid having your card information skimmed at ATMs, gas pumps, and other locations, always check for signs of tampering before using a chip-enabled card reader.
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