On the Radar – Card Skimmers
What is a card skimmer?
Card skimmers are devices that are placed over or inside of the machines that read the magnetic strip on your credit and debit cards – such as ATM’s and gas pumps.
Thieves place these devices on the machines in order to collect data from your credit/debit card. Once the information is collected, the thieves can clone your card, make online purchases with your card information, or sell your card information to other criminals. Typically, victims are not even aware of the incident until they notice unauthorized charges on their statements or a negative balance in their bank account.
According to the National Association of Convenience Stores, approximately 29 million Americans pay for gas at the pump using their credit/debit card EVERY DAY. A skimmer on 1 gas pump can collect the information of average of 30-100 cards per day. Gas stations tend to be a popular place for skimming devices due to the lack of chip readers available at the pumps. Chip readers are much more secure than the magnetic strip. It’s also easy for the thief to pretend he is pumping gas when in fact he is placing a skimmer on the pump.
These skimming devices can be hard to detect, especially if it is placed inside the machine. If it’s a skimmer placed on top of the machine, you may notice signs of tampering or something unusual about how the machine looks.
How to Avoid Becoming a Victim:
First, there is no foolproof way to avoid this, but there are a few things you can do to try to protect yourself.
1. Visually and Manually inspect the ATM or gas pump. Do you notice and loose parts? Does it appear to be tampered with? Is there a seal on the fuel pump door and is it intact?
2. Use ATM’s and gas pumps that are clearly visible. It’s harder for thieves to place skimmers on machines that are well monitored. Try to avoid stand-alone ATM’s – opt for ATM’s that are physically connected to a bank.
3. Cover the PIN pad when you are at the ATM. Thieves sometimes place hidden cameras along with the skimmer to try to see your PIN being entered.
4. Try a skimmer app on your smart phone. Many skimmers are Bluetooth connected. The app can detect the Bluetooth connection and give you the heads up to avoid that gas pump.
5. Use a credit card instead of debit. If the thieves get access to your debit information, they also have access to your banking.
6. Monitor your credit card and bank statements. Look for unauthorized purchases and report them immediately.
7. Pay inside the store or pay digitally. Apple, Android and others have digital payment options.
If you do become victim to a card skimmer, report the loss to your bank or credit card company immediately. Report the incident to your police department also.
As always, be aware of your surroundings and trust your instincts. If something seems out of place, find a different location.