Skimming & Scamming – How Do I Detect a Card Skimmer?

How to Detect Card Skimmers

If you watch or read the news lately, it may seem like credit and debit card fraud is everywhere around you. While it is important to be cautious while using your debit or credit card, there are actions you can take to protect yourself from theft—including knowing the potential risks that are out there.

What is Skimming?

Skimming involves stealing card numbers by putting an illegal card reading device over an existing card reader. ATMs and gas pumps are the most common targets, but criminals can place skimmers on in-store devices as well. The skimmer collects the information from the magnetic strip on your credit or debit card as you swipe or insert the card into the reader, so the thief can then retrieve the information and use it to duplicate your card or access your bank account. 

Skimmers come in many different shapes and sizes, so there's no one-size-fits-all solution to detecting them. There are, however, several warning signs you can look out for when using an ATM or other card readers. 

Some thieves will also put a small camera nearby to capture PIN numbers or tamper with the keypad itself. These cameras can be as small as a pin hole and not easily detectable, so using your hand to shield your key entry is a good practice.

How to Detect Card Skimmers

The first rule of card skimmer detection is trust your instincts. If something seems off when you're using an ATM or card reader, you might want to find another one that is nearby. It could be that the ATM isn't well-lit, or the keypad is sticking, or the gas pump isn't within view of staff members, or you notice that the color of the reader doesn't match the rest of the machine. All of these can be warning signs, so it's important to be aware of your surroundings when using a card reader. 

If you're in a location with multiple machines, look for differences between the reader you're using and the others—like a flashing light on one reader that doesn't appear on another. If no differences are visible, or you're at a single machine, tug on the reader. If it's loose, there's a chance you're tugging on a skimmer that's been glued or otherwise fastened over the original card reader.

Other Ways to Protect Yourself from Fraud

In addition to checking out the actual machine, there are other things you can do to protect yourself when you are using a card reader:

  • Use your hand to shield your key entry from view when typing in your PIN
  • Use your EMV chip card whenever possible
  • Use Apple Pay or other touchless payment methods that tokenize your payment information so that it isn't exposed

Of course, if you suspect an ATM has been tampered with or you see fraudulent charges or withdrawals on your account, you should contact your bank immediately.

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