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The Skimmer Scam: How to Stay Safe

You lean back in your office chair during your lunch break, sipping your second (or third) cup of coffee, and decide to check your credit card account balance, just to keep on top of things. You log in to your account and stare at the numbers. Something isn’t right. There must be some mistake, you think. Your balance is significantly lower than it should be.

You check your wallet. None of your cards are missing. How could someone have stolen your money without access to your physical credit card? With technology, of course ─ in this case, a credit card skimmer.

Know the Facts

A skimmer is a diabolically ingenious little device that looks like a real card slot, the kind that you stick your card into when you’re paying for gas or withdrawing money from an ATM. The skimmer fits over the real card slot, and when you insert your card, it collects all the information. Skimmers range from cheap-looking pieces of tech to high-end mimics of genuine card slots.

Some skimmers work in conjunction with tiny cameras, which record PIN numbers while the skimmer captures key data with a magnetic reader. While the alert consumer can sometimes spot these devices, many of today’s distracted, busy users never suspect them at all, until it’s too late.

Crunch the Numbers

According to the United States Secret Service, ATM fraud losses come to around $350,000 or more each day of the year, and card skimming is responsible for over 80% of that total. Thieves that use skimmers usually install them at self-service, point-of-purchase machines like gas station pumps or ATMs. Lots of people come through these areas, so the criminals can blend in easily as they install and reclaim their device.

Dare to Compare

Your best defense against this kind of theft is vigilance. Whenever you use an ATM or gas pump card slot, take a look around first. Note what the other gas pump card slots look like. Do they differ from yours? If so, your pump or the one next to you may have a skimmer attached.

At ATMs, the bank sometimes posts a photo of the card slot to show you what it should look like. If it looks different, there may be a skimmer present. However, keep in mind that thieves could always post their own photo over the original to throw you off.

Spot the Skimmer

Note the color of the rest of the machine. If the card slot and the area immediately surrounding it don’t seem to match in hue, weather wear, or style, you may be looking at a skimmer. Even if you just have an odd feeling about the setup, trust your gut feeling. Find another ATM or an alternative gas station. You might just save yourself the hassle and stress of ATM fraud on your account.

Give Them Some Credit

When you pay for gas, use your credit card instead of your debit card. For a credit card, you only have to enter your ZIP code, whereas with a debit card you have to type in your PIN. A hidden camera could collect that keypad information easily.

Watch your credit card and bank accounts carefully, checking them every day. Your vigilance enables you to alert your financial institution if any fraud does occur. The faster you notify them of a problem, the sooner they can investigate and return your money to you.

About John Martinus

John Martinus has been in and around the tech industry for 15 years. He has a lot of experience since the early days of the internet. He lives in Southern California and when he's not writing tech articles he is hiking or surfing.

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