What are Credit Card Skimmers?

A credit card skimmer is a device designed to steal your sensitive personal and financial data when you’re accessing either a point of sale, such as at a gas station pump, or at your bank, on an ATM machine. Last year The Consumerist highlighted a card skimmer on a Bank of America ATM and at a gas pump.

There are two types of skimmers:

  • Cameras: A microscopic camera capable of capturing your card’s visual information, like your name, your card number, the expiration date, and your PIN when you enter it on the keypad.
  • Magnetic capture: A device that sits on top of the card scanner that captures your card’s magnetic information, which includes all the visual data and more.

How do you protect yourself from these devices? Unfortunately, the only reliable way to do so is by being familiar with how the unit is supposed to look normally. There are a few other tips to help you become less susceptible to skimmers:

  • Do not use unfamiliar ATMs, you don’t know what they look like normally so it’s difficult to determine if there’s a skimmer attached.
  • Do not use unsecure ATMs. Thieves are less likely to attach a skimmer to a unit inside the bank itself, as entry would require them to swipe a card. That doesn’t mean it’s possible though, as any credit card gives you access to typically “secure” bank ATM locations and thieves have likely stolen cards in the past.
  • Become familiar with different types of card scanners. The ones you see at a gas pump, that stick out, are generally called “dip scanners” and require you to insert and remove the card. Many bank ATMs have motorized scanners that take your card and ejects it when it’s done. If you see a dip scanner where you expect a motorized capture scanner, use another ATM.
  • Regularly review your accounts for fraud. You have consumer protections against fraud if you catch them in time, so be sure to stay on top of it.

Thieves are especially clever and there will always be a scam out there, so it’ll be impossible to prevent every scam, we have to at least stop the ones we know about.

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