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How to spot a credit card skimmer

Credit card skimmers are fraudulent devices that can steal credit or debit card credentials and cause huge financial harm. This article explains how credit card skimmers work and how to spot them.

How to spot a credit card skimmer

What is a credit card skimmer?

Credit card skimmers are devices criminals use to steal card information at ATMs, gas pumps, and other payment terminals. Here are several types of card skimming machines that criminals may use to steal credit card information:

  1. Overlay skimmers. They are devices that are placed over the top of an actual card reader, found on ATMs or gas pumps. Overlay skimmers usually look like part of the original device and can be difficult to detect.
  2. Internal skimmers. Devices that are installed inside the card reader. They can be more difficult to detect than overlay skimmers because they are hidden inside the machine.
  3. Wireless skimmers. A wireless credit card skimmer uses Bluetooth technology to transmit credit card information to criminals. These types of skimmers can be placed anywhere near a card reader, and criminals can collect the information remotely.
  4. Keypad overlays. These credit card skimmers are placed on top of the keypad of an ATM or other card reader. They are designed to capture the PIN number as the user enters it.
  5. Fake card readers. Criminals may also install entirely fake card readers on an ATM or gas pump. These fake readers are designed to look like the real thing, but they are not connected to the machine’s internal systems.

It’s crucial to be aware of skimmer attacks and to stay vigilant when using your credit or debit card, especially at unfamiliar locations.

What does a credit card skimmer look like?

Skimmers come in all shapes and sizes. Also, they have different degrees of complexity. Some skimmers are physically attached to a payment machine to extend the card slot. Others are hidden cameras that attempt to capture sensitive data while you’re making a payment.

Thieves also use fake keypads, Bluetooth skimmers, and “card shimming” devices (paper-thin strips that hide inside a card slot waiting to clone the magnetic stripe of a payment card.)

How does a credit card skimmer work?

Credit card skimming happens when a skimmer reads your credit or debit card’s magnetic stripe after you insert it into a compromised machine. The device can store the cardholder’s name, card number, and expiration date. It gathers the data from all the cards that account holders insert into the reader until the thief collects it.

How to spot a credit card skimmer

Although skimming devices are designed to be invisible, it’s possible to identify them by performing a visual and physical examination. Here are a few simple steps you can take:

  1. Look at the card reader. Is there any part of the machine that is out of alignment? If any part of it looks out of place, that could mean a skimmer has been installed.
  2. Inspect the card reader. Use your fingers to check the card reader for a skimmer. If it feels like it’s coming apart in some places or a piece of it isn’t solidly connected, skimming devices could be in place.
  3. Give the card reader a little wiggle. There’s a chance you could feel something out of alignment when you put your card in the reader, but then it may be too late to stop the data breach. Try to wiggle the card reader before swiping your card.

Card skimmers at a gas pump

Skimming attacks at gas stations are super common. Even though many gas stations have security cameras, thieves find ways to install gas pump skimmers.

Each gas pump should have security tape or a sticker over the cabinet panel. Avoid using the card reader if the tape looks ripped or broken. There’s a high chance a thief has tampered with it.

Also, physically inspect a fuel pump’s card reader and a keypad. Feel around the reader and try to wiggle it to see if it’s securely attached. If it’s not, the device could be fraudulent. Consider paying inside at the gas station counter.

What happens if a credit card is skimmed?

Criminals could use stolen card information in a few ways: to create fake credit cards, make fraudulent purchases, or sell stolen data online.

Try to check your bank account regularly. This way, you’ll be aware of all transactions made with your card. Have you noticed something suspicious, for example, online purchases you don’t recognize? Report suspicious transactions to your bank or your credit card issuer immediately.

How to avoid credit card skimmers

The good news is that you can improve your credit card safety by following simple steps:

  • Always inspect the card reader and keypad. If you feel these parts are loose, avoid making purchases.
  • At gas stations, compare all gas pumps and machines. If one of them looks different from the others, a skimmer may be attached.
  • Look for hidden cameras around the credit card reader. Check if any holes are looking down on where you would insert your card. If yes, a hidden camera might capture you entering your PIN.
  • Consider how you pay. Using an application for payments or choosing ATMs in high-traffic areas or inside bank branches is safer than using cash machines located in places where fraudsters can easily corrupt them.
  • Use your credit card. In case of fraudulent transactions, credit cards may have a little more protection than debit cards. Why? Credit cards usually offer fraud protection that debit cards do not have.

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