How to Spot a Credit Card Skimmer
Check before you swipe. Here’s how it all works
Check out how long it takes the man in the white shirt to place a credit card skimming device on top of a credit card terminal in a Miami Beach gas station.
As you can see on this security video released by the Miami Beach Police, the man in the light blue shirt distracts the clerk while the other man places the device, without the cashier noticing. (The police retrieved the skimmer by the second day, after a call from the station clerk who noticed it.)
These skimmers capture the bank account data stored on the magnetic strip of your credit or debit card when you swipe your card, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Criminals then use the data to create a new card and go on a shopping spree. Or they sell the card or steal your identity.
Related: How Secure Are Your Transactions?
You won’t know anything’s wrong when you swipe your card — the transaction will still go through.
Skimmers are cropping up in more and more gas stations and ATMs. Skimming accounts for 30 percent of all data fraud and results in more than $2 billion in losses annually, according to a 2015 study from ATM Marketplace, a trade publication with a focus on the ATM industry.
Criminals may be making the most of skimming devices now, before more people have EMV (chip) credit cards, which are impervious to skimming, Methuen police chief Joseph Solomon told WCBV Boston after finding a skimmer at a local bank. Instead of swiping these cards, you insert them into a slot.
How to spot one
Skimming devices are installed for a short period of time, usually a few hours, says the FBI. They look very similar to the original card reader and fit right over it.
Here’s what to look for before you swipe away.
- Check for any loose parts. Inspect the credit card reader before using it and be suspicious if you see anything loose, crooked or damaged. Tug at it, if possible. It shouldn’t wiggle. Also check for scratching around the card slot, adhesive tape or glue residue. Skimmers are often attached to an ATM or terminal by nothing more than double-sided tape for easy removal.
- Look for hidden cameras. At ATMs, skimmers are sometimes used in conjunction with hidden cameras that record you as you enter your PIN, says the FBI. Cover the pin pad while you type your PIN as if someone were looking over your shoulder — because someone might be. If possible, advises the FBI, go to an ATM inside a bank branch, and avoid ATMs in tourist areas.
- Check out the keypad, too. Criminals can use a fake keypad to record your keystrokes as you enter your pin, says the FBI. If it moves or looks suspicious, don’t use it.
If you find evidence of fraud, call 911 immediately. Then call your bank and ask them how to file a fraud report.
Follow these steps to recover from identity theft fraud.
Related: Your Wallet Was Stolen, Now What?
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