Tips for Recognizing a Credit Card Skimmer

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Credit card fraud is pretty common. While we may imagine that scammers work in basements and collect our data through hacking, it is not entirely true. Credit card skimmers are one of the tools used by criminals to collect the data they need. So, how do you detect a skimmer? In this article, we will cover:

  • how to recognize a credit card skimmer
  • what it looks like
  • how to prevent yourself from getting scammed by one

What Is a Credit Card Skimmer?

Credit card skimmers are devices that can be attached to card readers in common places like ATMs, gas stations, or even restaurants. Skimmers are usually very small in size which makes them hard to detect. Once you use a device that has a skimmer attached to it, your card’s information will be recorded. Scammers later use this information to create clone cards or perform other types of fraud like identity theft.

DID YOU KNOW: There were more than 600,000 cases of identity theft in the US in 2019 and 41% of them involved credit card fraud. If you are worried that you might be targeted, try getting help from identity theft protection companies.

What Does a Credit Card Skimmer Look Like?

There is no specific shape for a skimmer which makes it even more difficult for people to look out for one. However, here are a few common types of skimmers:

  • Well-placed camera: The most common type of skimmers are well-placed tiny cameras that not only record your card’s PIN but can also take a photo of your face. These are usually placed near the screen of the ATM or POS system. You might not even be able to recognize these pinhole cameras as they are well disguised and often look like a part of the ATM. These hidden cameras capture your card’s information and can later use it for fraudulent activities.
  • Fake keypads: Fake keypads are also common ATM skimmers. They are placed over the actual keypad and record the PIN you enter during the transaction. Fake keypads are also quite difficult to see because they merge well with the ATM or POS systems.
  • Loose card reader: The next place where you can find an ATM credit card skimmer is on the card reader or on the card slot. These skimmers are the easiest to spot out of all the options we’ve discussed so far. They are placed on the card slot and usually look bulky. Many may not even be of the same color as the machine that you’re using.
  • Card shimming: With the introduction of chip-based cards skimming became quite difficult. That’s why criminals also had to update their tactics. They now frequently use card shimming instead of card skimming devices. Shimmers are tiny devices put inside card readers. While it is still possible to detect a credit card skimmer, detecting a card shimmer is quite difficult. When you slide your card, shimming devices read your card’s data through a magnetic stripe attached to them. However, data on cards using the EMV chip card standard is quite difficult to duplicate as it contains additional magnetic stripe data.
  • E-skimmers: Online stores have risen in popularity since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. E-skimming is when hackers insert malicious code on the payment terminals of websites. They steal your card’s information, such as your credit card number, when you type it in. It’s similar to a phishing page but it happens on an authentic online page. 

How to Recognize a Credit Card Skimmer

Here are a few ways to recognize the various types of skimmers. These tips will help you be more aware and prevent your money from being stolen:

  • Look for cameras: While the cameras are very tiny you should take a minute to look for them before inserting your card. Look for cameras over the PIN pad or near the POS system. Usually, these cameras are hidden by some covering that is not a part of the machine.
  • Compare with other machines: No matter whether you’re using an ATM, POS system, or paying at a pump it is always best to compare the device you will be using with other similar devices. This is very helpful if you’re trying to spot a gas station credit card skimmer. Check the PIN pad, security seal, card readers, tamper-resistant seal, and other components that might look tampered with or different.
  • Loose or moving parts: This is the easiest way to spot skimmers on any device or machine. Check for any loose or moving parts on the device you’re using. The most common parts include a loose keypad on the ATM or a moving card reader.
  • Use supportive tech: While the above is often enough to spot a skimmer, you can also use various apps that use high-tech data or physical tools to check for skimmers. One type of credit card skimmer detector comes in the form of a plastic card that you can insert into the machine and it informs whether there’s a skimmer device attached to it. 

Key Takeaways

  • Card skimmers are devices that can be attached to ATMs or gas station pumps.
  • These are mainly used by thieves and criminals to steal your personal information or money from your bank accounts.
  • Skimmers come in various forms, such as fake keypads, cameras, card readers, or e-skimmers.
  • The easiest way to spot skimmers is to physically look for them or use apps designed to detect them.

How to Prevent Credit Card Skimming Fraud

Now that you know how to spot a credit card skimmer, let’s look at a few ways to prevent card skimming:

  • Do a quick scan: As we’ve mentioned, most of the skimming devices are visible to the naked eye. It only requires a few minutes of your attention. Remember that a quick scan before inserting your card can protect you from fraud.
  • Check the keypad: The most common type of skimming device is the fake PIN pad. Make sure you check the PIN pad before entering your PIN. It is also advised to cover the PIN pad with your hand while typing.
  • Use selective ATMs: Finding a skimmer on an ATM is also quite common. It is important to only use ATMs that you trust or have been using for a long time, instead of simply looking up the first ATM in your ZIP code area. Ideally, the ATM you’re using must be associated with a bank. Such ATMs offer a higher level of security since banks monitor any suspicious activity. Moreover, there is usually a large number of people using these ATMs which makes it difficult for the thieves to attach skimming devices to the machine.
  • Use a credit card: It is always better to use different kinds of credit cards instead of debit cards to make payments. Debit cards are directly linked to your account and if you do come across a skimmer, your money becomes vulnerable. On the other hand, if you face any credit card skimmer scams, it will be the bank’s money that gets stolen.
  • Check your monthly statements: You should do this every month regardless of whether your card has been skimmed or not. This helps you keep track of how much money you spend and on what. It is also important to save the receipts of all the transactions to make sure you’ve not incurred any fraudulent charges and are able to report them if you have. Many people also set fraud alerts on their phones.
  • NFC transactions: NFC stands for near-field communication. It allows two devices to connect with each other when they’re in close proximity. NFC allows mobile phone payments and since it does not require any card or PIN, your data remains protected.
DID YOU KNOW: 47% of the world’s credit card fraud cases happen in the US. That’s why it’s important to take precautions against this kind of fraud.

Wrap Up

Now you know how to detect a credit card skimmer. Remember, some of the most common skimming devices include a fake PIN pad, a hidden camera, or a fake card reader. Sometimes all it takes to protect your money is inspecting the device you are about to use before making a transaction. It is also important to check your financial statements regularly to make sure that your finances are safe.

FAQ

Is there an app to detect skimmers?

There are a few apps like Bluetana that allow you to spot credit card skimmers by detecting their Bluetooth signature.

What should you do if you think your card has been skimmed?

If you think your card has been skimmed, you should inform your bank immediately and change your password to avoid further fraud.

How to detect a credit card skimmer on a gas pump?

To detect a credit card skimmer at a gas pump, compare it with other pumps. If there is even a slight difference, especially near a card reader or PIN pad, avoid using this gas pump.

ABOUT AUTHOR

I learned a lot about finance after working for a digital marketing company specializing in investing and trading stocks, forex, etc. After that, I got exposed to other verticals such as wealth management and personal finance, which further improved my understanding of the financial world.

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