What is a Card Skimmer?
A card skimmer is a physical piece of technology that steals your card information from an already established card reader. Skimmers are often connected to the magnetic stripe reader or keypad, and can not only steal your credit card number, but also your PIN and ZIP codes. In other words, the device “skims” information while still allowing a gas pump or ATM to function normally.
In the case of the original skimming devices that popped up years ago, they look and function exactly like the machine’s actual card reader, at least by external appearances.
Thieves scout out a spot for the right time to place the counterfeit piece over top of the actual reader. It’s made to look identical or close enough that most people won’t ever notice it… and it silently collects card swipe and keypad data.
The thieves would then come back after a period of time to collect the data and clone your credit card.
The old devices are still in circulation. However, the newer Skimming devices have become much smaller and even harder to detect.
New Skimming and Shimming
Shimming is basically the little brother of skimming. The major difference is that the hardware goes inside the card slot instead of being fit on top.
Thieves design it to be razor thin – thinner than your credit card or even a sheet of paper in some cases – in order to fit into the machine.
Some modern devices don’t just passively record your information as you punch it into the machine and wait to be picked up– they can transmit data back to the thief via bluetooth connection when they come back to collect it.
This means that the perpetrators can abandon their tiny device once it’s installed and have a lesser chance of getting caught trying to recollect later on.
Cameras and Fake Keypads
That said, thieves don’t always have to have the skills of a modern bluetooth computer-chip building innovative hacker to get your info. Some of these scams still involve the older tech that already exists.
For example: An older skimmer device may collect the card swipe data while a tiny, well-placed camera will record your card number, your name and your pin entering actions on video…. and the thieves match the card data and time stamps to video actions later on.
Red Flags to Look Out For
- If the card reader seems loose or it’s difficult to slide your card into the slot, think twice about using the machine. The loose reader could be a skim, whereas the tight fit could indicate a shim.
- Is the security seal broken, damaged, or missing? Alert an attendant or employee and do not use.
- Is the keypad on the ATM wonky, wiggly, loose, or otherwise just “not normal”?
- Can you see a camera in an odd place that doesn’t look like it’s just security camera to protect the ATM and its users?
How to Protect Yourself
Protecting yourself is often a matter of common sense combined with awareness. Here are some tips.
- Pay inside for gas or choose pumps that are closest to the physical building. Choose ATMs that are in busy and well lit areas.
- Avoid using your debit card at the pump when possible. Pay with a credit card or inside with cash, or your mobile wallet instead.
- Do you use this gas station or ATM often? Take just a second glance around and see if anything looks “off.” If the external reader seems different than the ones around it from what you remember, it could be fake.
- Do not use an ATM or gas pump that has a missing, altered, or questionable security seal sticker. If a security seal looks tampered with or is missing completely, alert an attendant or employee.
- Get a credit card with a chip. While these are not completely fail-safe, they do offer more protection than the credit cards with magnetic strips.
- Set up fraud alerts on your cards and identity monitoring. Contact 121FCU about CardValet and IDProtect.
Summary and Resources
Credit card scammers are smart. They know how to get you to let your guard down so that they can steal your card information to wreak havoc with your finances and your life. Pay attention to the red flags you see. They just might prevent you from being scammed.