Card skimming is a method thieves use to collect data from your credit or debit card magnetic strip at the time you use it. Point-of-purchase machines, such as gas pumps, ATMs, and transit ticket dispensers, are most susceptible to skimming devices.
As thieves become more savvy, it’s important for you to keep your eyes open when using your credit or debit card. Here’s what you need to know about skimming in order to protect yourself.
How Skimming Happens
Card skimming devices can be difficult to spot. They are typically installed on the outside of machines and look as if they belong there. High-quality devices are attached over the card slot and others are placed inside the card slot. The reader can record your card information.
Sometime, a tiny camera might be installed nearby to record your PIN as you enter it or an artificial keypad could be placed over the existing one to record your keystrokes.
Tips to Avoid Being Skimmed
Follow these guidelines every time you use your card.
- Do a quick scan. Before using any machine, take a look to make sure it hasn’t been tampered with. If the card reader seems loose, crooked, or damaged, if the graphics aren’t aligned, or if part of the machine is a different color, don’t insert or swipe your card. If there is another machine nearby (such as two ATM machines next to each other) compare them to see if there are obvious differences. For example, if one machine has a flashing slot to insert your card and the other doesn’t, that may be an indication that there is something wrong.
- Be wary of non-bank ATMs. FICO reports that 60% of skimming occurs at privately-owned ATMs. These are typically cash-dispensing machines and tend to be located in convenience stores, bars, restaurants, grocery stores, or check cashing establishments.
- Check the keypad. If the numbers are hard to press or feel thick, it might have a false keypad installed and you should move on to the next machine.
- Block your PIN. When entering your PIN, cover the keypad with your other hand in case a camera is recording your number.
- Use mobile wallet. An alternative to swiping your card is paying by mobile wallet including Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, or Google Pay. This form of payment is secure because your credit card information is tokenized and rendered useless if a thief where to get a hold of it.
- Pay inside. If your local gas station hasn't yet updated their pumps to accept mobile wallet or your aren't sure if the machine is safe to use, go inside the service station to pay. Taking an extra minute to walk inside could save you a whole load of problems later on.
- Stay in public view. Always try to use machines that are in public view with security monitoring – these machines are less likely to be tampered with. For additional protection, use a machine inside the store or an ATM inside your bank.
- Check your account regularly. Technology is advancing and so are skimming devices so the best thing you can do is monitor your account. Rather than wait for your monthly statement, check your account regularly using online and mobile banking. This way, if anything were to happen, you can catch it immediately and report it to the bank or local credit union where your accounts are.
- Sign up for alerts. See what type of fraud alert system your card provider has in place and take advantage of it. While fraud is not 100% preventable, catching issues immediately will save you a lot of headaches. At 1st United, you have access to text alerts that can help prevent fraudulent transactions on your credit and debit cards. If a suspicious transaction occurs, 1st United will send a text to your mobile phone asking you to verify if you performed the transaction.
- Above all, trust your instincts. If you suspect foul play, or if you’re in doubt about the authenticity of a machine, use a different machine or payment method.
If You Suspect a Skimming Device
Report it to the manager of the location immediately!
If You Suspect Your Card Has Been Compromised
Contact your financial institution immediately. 1st United Credit Union members can call (800) 649-0193. For your protection, we can monitor your account or block and reissue your card. In addition, we recommend you sign up for fraud text alerts to help monitor your accounts. Be sure to take advantage of these crucial services that our local Credit Union offers to members in Alameda County and the surrounding areas.