Are Thieves Skimming Your Credit Card Data?

/ BY / Identity Theft

When was the last time you took a really good look at the ATM or the payment terminal attached to a gasoline pump? If you're like most people, you use this equipment without a second thought. With credit card skimming on the rise, however, you need to be more wary and give all payment terminals a closer look.

Card skimming is a type of fraud in which thieves use specialized equipment to steal your credit card numbers as you make a normal transaction. You could withdraw money from an ATM, pay for gas at the pump or even make a quick purchase at a local convenience store and find a few days later that someone has used your card information to clean out your bank account or run up hundreds of dollars in purchases on your credit card.

Card skimming occurs when thieves place some type of card readers in an ATM or a payment terminal. Sometimes they pull out the original panel of the terminal and place their skimming devices behind that panel in line with the card entry slot. Other times they put an entire new panel over the existing one--making it look just like the real thing--so that their equipment picks up your card information (including the security code on the back side) as you make a transaction. Others actually set up their own ATM machines that may dispense cash but also capture the card information.

Since thieves need PIN numbers in addition to card information to withdraw money from ATMs, they often install pinhole cameras positioned to read the numbers as you punch them in.

Thieves may store the information in the equipment and come back to pick it up later, or they may actually be able to have the data transferred to a remote computer. Either way, they can use the information they obtain to manufacture fraudulent credit cards or ATM cards. Since you have your own cards in your possession, you won't even realize that there's a problem until you check your bank account balance or your credit card statement and realize that there are withdrawals and/or purchases that you never made.

Protecting yourself against card skimmers

Credit card skimming is becoming a big problem throughout the U.S. Last December, for example, the Lucky Supermarket Chain reported that self-checkout terminals in 23 of its stores had been tampered with, and the resulting fraudulent use of cards had resulted in thieves obtaining personal card information from about 100 people. In Central Florida, the co-owner of a mobile phone store admitted installing skimming devices on his payment terminals and defrauding customers of more than $320,000.

Unfortunately, skimming equipment is easy to obtain. According to CBS News, it costs about $200 to purchase the card readers from an online source, and it's legal to do so. It's also not difficult to get the tiny cameras that pick up PIN numbers.

There are some steps that you can take to protect yourself from credit card skimmers, however. Here are some recommendations from the experts:

  1. Look for signs that the terminal is a fake. Does the printing on the ATM seem off? Try wiggling or even tugging the card slot. If it moves easily, find another ATM or pay inside instead of at the gas pump.
  2. Avoid using terminals in sketchy places, such as dark, poorly-lit locations or places that get little traffic. You're usually better off withdrawing money from an ATM associated with a bank.
  3. Keep your PIN private by using your hand to shield the numbers as you enter them. If thieves don't have your PIN, they'll have trouble getting money out on your card.
  4. Keep a close eye on your accounts. It's a good idea to get in the habit of checking your bank account and credit card information each week. If you find any transactions that you haven't made, report them to your credit card company and/or your bank immediately.
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Please note your financial situation is unique and our tips & advice presented here may not be appropriate for your situation. recommends that you seek different advice & opinions from your own accountant or financial adviser who understands your individual circumstances before making any important decisions or implementing any financial strategy.