Be aware of skimmers!

Unfortunately, your credit card and debit card account details can be compromised by a device called a skimmer.

A skimmer is a device that thieves attach to an ATM or a payment machine (like the card reader at retail stores or at the gas pump) that record your magnetic strip, or stripe, and stores the card number, expiration date and the cardholder’s name.  These strips even appear on new chip-enabled cards.

Thieves or hackers then use this information to create counterfeit cards or rack up fraudulent charges online.

So how do you project yourself from skimmers?

The first step is to be aware.  Aside from ATMs and gas pumps, skimmers pop up at ticket kiosks, parking meters and other spots where you can swipe a credit or debit card.

The next step is to use the checklist below when you are at a card reader so you don’t fall victim to a skimmer:

  • Scan the area for hidden cameras that might be recording you typing your PIN at an ATM. These may be mounted near the keypad, so always cover your hand while you type your PIN.
  • Compare the card reader and keypad to the rest of the machine. The colors and styles should all match, and graphics should be aligned and unobscured.
  • Assess for obvious signs of tampering – a broken security seal on a gas pump for instance.
  • Shake, move, nudge the card reader and keypad. Card skimmers and fake keypads are meant to be removed, so if they feel loose, you might have come across a skimmer.

Keep in mind that the checklist might not be enough to locate a skimmer.  This is especially true at gas stations, where a skimmer might be inside a pump and not visible to the naked eye.  If you believe something is wrong with an ATM, gas pump or other card-reading machine, report it to the business.

What should you do if you realize your card has been skimmed?

Sometimes you won’t know your card has been skimmed until a fraudulent transaction surfaces in your account.  Therefore, it is important you are vigilant in checking your account transactions to ensure all purchases have been made by you.

If you notice a fraudulent transaction, experts recommend contacting the issuer of your credit or debit card right away.  You also should alert the business where you believe the card fraud took place.  If the allege fraud happened at an ATM that’s not owned by a bank – commonly found at convenience stores – look for a sticker on the ATM that displays the customer service telephone number for the owner.

Finally, report the suspected crime to a local law enforcement agency, the consumer division of your state attorney general’s office and the Federal Trade Commission.  This might not fix your own situation, but it could keep someone else from being skimmed.