The threat of skimming is very real. How to protect yourself from skimming is easy if you follow a few simple rules.
Skimming, while not new, is a crime that is becoming more and more popular. The attraction for thieves is the low risk of being caught.
What is skimming?
Skimming simply described, is the theft of credit card account data contained on the magnetic strip on the back of a credit card. Skimming occurs when a device is placed on credit card receivers that can skim (read and capture) information at the time the card is inserted.
In other occasions, a thief can swipe a card in a second scanner to steal the information.
A fraudulent reader can be undetectable on such things as gas pumps. Other devices such as a Red Box can contain card skimmers.
While easy to commit, the crime is actually quite complicated to complete. If you’re a victim, you will likely never know who stole your data.
Tips To Protect Yourself
Everybody with a credit or debit card is susceptible to skimming.
There are a couple of rules to use to lessen the chances of becoming a victim.
Do not use a debit card anywhere that skimming has been known to occur. That would include:
- Gas Stations
- Fast Food businesses
- ATMs in unsecured locations
If a debit card gets skimmed you are at risk of having the account completely cleaned out. While you are likely to recover your loss, it may take a while.
Best action is to only use a debit card in a chip reader.
If your credit card gets skimmed, it creates a lot of aggravation, but you are not likely to suffer the loss. If you see an unauthorized charge and report it promptly, the credit card company absorbs the loss.
Next On The List
Try not to let the card out of your site. That means not using one in a drive thru. While most workers are honest, there are many reported cases when they were not. It only takes a second to swipe your card a second time using a small, hand held skimmer.
Dining out usually involves handing a card to the server who disappears to swipe your card and prepare your bill. Again, the card is out of your sight. There are cases when servers skim cards.
It is not practical to follow a server to the register to run your card. Times like that are a risk we need to accept.
The “never” use a debit card rule is very important in instances like bars and restaurants.
Skimming is difficult to prevent. A diligent review of credit card statements is important. When an unauthorized charge appears, you have time to challenge it with your credit card company.
Cards With Chips Can Be Skimmed.
When the new chip cards replaced the old swipe cards, most of us thought we were out of the woods as far as this type of fraud is concerned. We were no longer at risk of skimming.
The risk for chip cards occurs when they are swiped rather than inserted into the chip reader. Many retail outlets, convenience stores and other businesses have not upgraded to chip readers.
While we may not suffer a direct loss if we discover the theft and report it promptly, we do suffer the inconvenience of having the card cancelled. We are then without the card as we wait for the replacement card to arrive.
In cases where the cancelled card was used for regular recurring charges, or is a part of convenient online purchases, the inconvenience of replacing the card continues.
Then there is the cost of these crimes for banks and credit card companies. They pass it along to customers like all of us. While we don’t actually pay for the false charges when they show up on our statements, we do pay for them in higher rates and fees.
When the chip card was introduced, businesses had a deadline to upgrade to chip readers. After the deadline, businesses may incur the losses of credit card fraud do to skimming. You may find merchants challenging your claim of fraud. While you may prevail in most cases, the aggravation will continue.
Anytime a card is swiped, we’re at risk
The Skimming Business
When a card is skimmed, the data contained on the magnetic strip is recorded and stored in the skimmer. The information can then be placed on a new card with a new name. The card is not associated with the original card owner. It can then be used to buy nearly anything.
Stealing the data on your card’s magnetic strip is not identity theft. The information is attached to your account but does not include personal information. The thief can use any name on the new counterfeit card.
In most cases, the thief will have identification to match the name on the new card containing your account information.
Skimming is a billion dollar enterprise. There are hundreds of examples of thieves placing skimming equipment on gas pumps, card readers in convenience stores and, of course, the skimming scams mentioned already.
Here is a short video from YouTube that shows how easily and quickly a skimmer can be place on a reader. Watch closely as these three men work together to get the skimmer installed.
Watch A Skimmer Being Attached
Similar Devices Can Be Place On ATM’s.
When using an ATM, look for anything that is not normal. Wiggle, pull or tug on anything that looks wrong, or misaligned
If you find a loose piece stop, do not use the ATM it may have a skimmer.
Nearly all bank owned ATM’s have converted to chip readers. If you must use an ATM, use only those with chip readers. Without swiping, your information can not be skimmed.
Skimming attacks are rampant and have been for a while. The chip cards are an attempt to get past swiping cards, but most gas stations, many ATM’s and a lot of merchants do not have chip card readers for their customers.
When a card is swiped where a skimmer has been installed, your information is captured.
A Big Risk
A huge risk takes place when you allow your credit card out of your sight. It literally takes only a second for your card to be run through a skimmer. If you don’t see it happen, you never know who did it. Even after you get the bill
When a false charge is made via skimming, when and where the data was stolen is not known. Skimming is not a charge on your account. It is only the stealing of your account data to be used later.
An example might be a drive thru at a fast food place or coffee shop. The latest version of a portable skimmer can easily be placed in a pocket. A skilled teller can swipe a card in the stores register and quickly and stealthily swipe it again in a skimmer and casually hand the card back to you.
There are dozens of schemes that make skimming profitable. There are cases where SUV’s are fitted with large steel gas tanks in the rear cargo area.
Using a card with skimmed data, thieves fill the tanks with hundreds of dollars of gasoline. They then transfer the gas to a tanker and sell the gasoline back to gas stations for cash. It is worth millions of dollars a year.
The thieves with the skimmers make their money selling data to other thieves who have blank cards ready to receive the stolen data. The crooks with the cards may simply sell the cards to a third thief who use the cards to buy property they can resell for cash.
Televisions, computers and cellphones are commonly purchased commodities bought by skimmers.
It’s a billion dollar business and it is best if you protect your cards from those skilled in ways to steal your information. Protect yourself from skimming by using the simple tips here.
As always, if you have questions or comments, let me know in the comments section below.