Card Skimming and Prevention
Never heard of skimming? It’s a con in which criminals install illegal card-reading devices on ATMs, as well as gas pumps and other public-area machines that process debit cards. You put your card in and the device “skims” your information from the card’s magnetic strip. A nearby hidden camera records the PIN that you enter. The criminals then make duplicate cards to drain cash from your accounts or they sell your card number and PIN on the black market. They’re always upgrading their technology.
Stealthier and more advanced skimmers include “shimmers” which wedge inside ATM slots to read data from chip-enabled cards. Bluetooth capabilities aid transmission of stolen data to the bad guys.
The crooks also exploit the fact that cards with secure computer chips still have vulnerable magnetic strips. And updating ATMs with new readers like those at retail stores (in which payment cards are inserted rather than swiped) is time-consuming and expensive.
Your defense against skimming
- Go to the credit union. Although not immune to skimming, ATMs at credit unions and banks are typically more secure with their own 24/7 camera surveillance and better maintained. Machines at convenience stores and other non-bank locations account for the majority of ATM compromises.
- Inspect before using. Beware of ATMs whose card slots are a different color than the rest of the machine; have unusual equipment on the slot, keypad or sides, or overhead (which could hide a camera); or don’t accept your card smoothly. If the slot is not securely attached, walk away. Newer ATMs have a flashing or steady light at the card slot. If it’s obscured, suspect tampering.
- Hide it. When entering a PIN, cover your hand as you press the numbers to protect your personal information.
- Keep close tabs on all payment cards. As with credit cards, most banks offer real-time alerts via text message or email on debit card transactions.
- Create a separate account. Open a smaller account, separate from your primary checking account, and use it exclusively for debit card transactions. If the account is skimmed, the lower balance would limit your losses.
- Lower your daily limit. Banks generally set a daily limit for ATM withdrawals, but you can request to have the amount of the limit reduced for an example to $100 or less per day to prevent scammers from making successive withdrawals within minutes.
Be Careful Using Your Cards in These Places
- Stand Alone ATM’s: Thieves target these ATMs by attaching a skimming device and a camera to the machines that will copy all of your information, including your debit card number and the information embedded in your card’s magnetic strip. Always examine the ATM for tape or loose/dislodged parts before using it.
- Gas Stations: Lack of supervision at “pay at the pump” gas stations makes it easier for thieves to use cameras to capture your PIN or zip code.
- Restaurants: When your debit card leaves your sight, it can easily be skimmed or copied.