Most people don’t think twice about swiping their credit card at a point of sale terminal in a store, at a gas station, or at an ATM. Unfortunately, people that aren’t paying attention to where they swipe their card could easily become a victim of a credit card skimmer.
Criminals use credit card skimmers to steal your credit card information. They then may use that information to make fraudulent purchases or sell the card information to others.
Here’s what you need to know about credit card skimmers and what you can do to protect yourself.
How credit card skimmers work
Credit card skimmers are separate devices that are placed over the typical swipe slot and sometimes the keypad at point of sale terminals, gas pumps, and ATMs. After a skimmer is installed, your card will pass through both the skimmer and the official point of sale or ATM mechanism.
While your transaction will still occur like normal, the skimmer will also grab the data off of your card’s magnetic strip which scammers can then use to make fraudulent transactions.
The older credit card skimmers required the criminal to return and retrieve the credit card skimmer to gather the stolen account data. New skimmers have been popping up that automatically texts stolen card data to criminals’ cell phones in real time.
Alternatively, some skimmers use Bluetooth communication devices to allow a criminal to sit approximately 100 yards away and gather data from the card skimmer remotely.
How to spot credit card skimmers
In the past, it may have been easy to spot some card skimmers because they looked awkward when placed over the traditional point of sale terminal. However, as technology has advanced, so have the designs of card skimmers. In some cases, it can be virtually impossible to detect a well-placed card skimmer.
You need to pay attention to detail to be able to identify card skimmers. Typically, they’re designed to look like they should be there. However, a few tell-tale signs might tip you off:
- If the card reader looks abnormally large or is loose and can be jiggled around
- If a security seal on a gas pump is broken or a pin-pad seems thicker or harder to press
You’ll also want to check gas pumps to see if the payment devices look the same on multiple pumps. Typically, criminals only install a skimmer on one pump rather than every pump at a gas station.
The best way to catch these skimmers is to be aware of what the original device looks like at the places you shop. If you notice a device looks different, make your purchase elsewhere or go to a different point of sale terminal.
What to do if you find a credit card skimmer
Call the police
If you find a skimmer, you should call the police and let them know immediately. Don’t use the machine. If you’ve already used it, call your credit or debit card company and ask them to issue a new card.
Freeze your credit card
Alternatively, if you have one of the credit cards that offer additional security listed below, you may be able to freeze your card until a police officer arrives to determine if a skimmer has been installed. This can prevent the hassle of having to get a new credit card number.
Don’t tamper with the skimmer
Whatever you do, don’t try to tamper with the skimmer. The person who installed it may be nearby waiting to gather information via Bluetooth or to retrieve the device if it doesn’t transmit the data it gathers.
If you’re still swiping your credit or debit card, you should keep your eye open for card skimming devices. Dealing with the fallout of someone making fraudulent transactions can be time-consuming and stressful. Paying attention to where you swipe your card can prevent this hassle.