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Is Your Credit Card at Risk of Being “Skimmed?”

by Chuck Bentley April 18, 2016


It’s called skimming because thieves “skim” your credit or debit card information using a device that affixes to a card reader on something like an ATM machine or gas station pump. It blends in with the existing equipment well enough that unsuspecting consumers never notice it.
And it’s become a big problem. From January 1 to April 9, 2015, skimming at bank-owned ATMs increased 173.53% year over year, while growth at non-bank ATMs topped 316%, according to the 2015 FICO Card Alert Service. This type of theft accounts for billions in consumer losses, ATM Marketplace reports.

Here’s some helpful advice I found at “Skimming can occur almost anywhere, but consumers should be particularly aware at restaurants, ATMs and gas pumps,” says Kristi Arey, manager of fraud mitigation at Northwest Federal Credit Union in Herndon, Virginia.

While some thieves are caught, others are turning to increasingly high tech methods to carry out skimming, often making it difficult to detect and counter. Follow these guidelines to protect your plastic — and your funds — from skimmers.

“Identity thieves like to target places that are unattended”

“Identity thieves like to target places that are unattended,” says Paige Hanson, chief of identity education at LifeLock, an ID theft protection company in Tempe, Arizona. Scan the area before using your card. Criminals will often put a skimming device on gas pumps that are farthest from the store, or at an ATM that is not well lit.
Also study the card reader and give it a good tug or shake. “If the thieves have used an overlay, often times it’s only stuck on with temporary glue or double-sided tape,” she says.

At an ATM, look around for a place where a hidden camera may be lurking. Thieves often place one in a position where it can capture PIN information as you punch it in.

When you pay after dining in a restaurant, a worker might swipe your card through a skimming device, which records the information. The data might be used to access your account or make a counterfeit card.
Regardless of where you are, if anything looks different on the card reader, or appears to have any signs of tape or scratches on it, it could be a sign of tampering. “If it looks suspicious, don’t use it and notify authorities,” Arey says.

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