Credit card skimming remains a real threat to card users and one way in which consumers can help fight this crime is taking precautionary measures to avoid their cards being skimmed in the first place. Credit card skimming has been there for many years but in the recent past skimming is becoming more popular. Despite the information provided on the internet and by financial institutions and security authorities on how to steer clear of card skimmers, consumers are still losing money and compromising their confidential information. The designers and users of skimmers are applying sophisticated ways to trick cardholders so that they are unable to detect these devices.
What is a credit card skimmer?
A card skimmer is a device designed to copy or decode information from the magnetic strip or the electronic chip of a credit or debit card. The skimmer electronically copies the information of the card including the card or account number, name, address, and PIN numbers that can be used make a counterfeit card. The information may also be used online to carry out fraudulent transactions.
Types of skimmers
Card skimmers come in many forms and sizes but these devises are designed to be thinner and are very difficult to detect once installed. Point-of-sale and stand alone hand-held devices are the most common used skimmers. The point-of-sale skimming devices are attached to areas such as ATM machines. These skimming devices may have components like a tiny camera hidden somewhere on the machine with an overlay fake keypad that can extract information you enter on the ATM keypad.
The card slot area of the ATM machine may also be fitted with a fake disguising “mouth” guide for a card that can read the information on your card as you insert it into the slot.
Because the card security code may not be present on the magnetic stripe of a card, the skimming thieves use a small keypad that unobtrusively transcribes the card security code digits. Pinpads at point-of-sale may be modified by replacing them with counterfeit ones or cameras to capture PIN numbers.
Advancement in smartphone technology is also giving skimming thieves an opportunity to steal money from credit and debit card holders. RFID technology, which is used in many applications such as keeping track of items in departmental stores or in factories to track parts, is now extending to credit and debit cards. This RFID technology acts like the electronic magnetic stripe in a card, but it uses wireless technology instead of physically having to touch the card to a reader.
Someone using the smartphone near field communication (NFC) app may be able to tap information from a credit card. The card information can even be read through the NFC app right from someone's pocket or purse. However, it requires a thieve to get close to you in order for it to work.
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This means that by standing next to you, a thief could use his smartphone to siphon information from your credit card. If the back of your card is marked with the words “Blink”, “PayPass” or a sign of triangle-nested arcs, it means that your credit card could be susceptible to the high-tech form of data pick pocketing with use of a smartphone.
How do skimming devices work?
For a card thieve to be able to succeed in stealing money, he or she has to get your card details like name, address, account or card number, and card security code. In addition, your PIN number is also needed to enable the thieves to access your account whether from an ATM or online. This is why different devices may be used to harvest information from a card as well as the card user.
A small camera may be mounted in a hidden location to take images of your fingers as you key in your PIN. Moreover, an overlay keypad may be fitted right over the original keypad of an ATM machine to transcribe the PIN number you enter. An ATM machine mouth slot may be fitted with an identical slot-guiding piece that contains the skimming device.
When the information is read from the magnetic stripe of the card, it is stored by the skimmer or relayed to the thief through a text messaging application. The thieves may come for the device after sometime to go and extract the information or they may use GSM-based technology installed in the skimmer so that the thief does not have to physically return to the scene of the crime in order to retrieve the information. This is one way the skimming thieves use to try to avoid being caught as they return to pick up their devices.
Where are skimmers likely to be used?
Skimming devices are notably used in areas where card users swipe their debit and credit cards such as ATM machines, point-of-purchase such as gas stations, and other areas like restaurants and bars. In ATM machines, sophisticated tiny skimmers are attached to the automated teller machines. They are covertly installed over the card slot and appear like a card slot mouth-guiding piece. At gas stations, the skimming devices are attached to the card readers of the pumps where unsuspecting motorists insert their cards
to fill their tanks only to fall victims of card skimming.
At point-of-purchase areas like restaurants and bars, the cards are swiped through a skimmer by the attendants. This happens when you hand over your card for payment and in the process, the attendant or employee swipes the card through a small hand-held card reader which stores the information contained in the magnetic stripe of the card. What happens is that the attendant or cashier makes sure that you are out of view of the devices or you are temporarily distracted.
What makes card skimmers hard to detect?
It is not easy to detect card skimmers installed or fitted in ATM machines, gas stations or other places. This is because the designers of these devices ensure that they match them with the designs and colors of the ATMs and the card readers at gas stations. In addition, these devices are being designed with extremely thin designs. You may not be able to suspect them when they are fitted to a machine. The cameras are placed in hidden locations where they may not be seen easily.
How to steer clear of card skimmers
Although it may be difficult to completely avoid getting caught in a skimming trap, there are a number of security precautions that you may take to help minimize your chances of becoming a victim. You need to be vigilant when using ATM machines, gas stations, and anywhere you need to hand your card to an employee.
You need to inspect the ATM machine or gas pump point-of-sale card readers to find out if something may be attached. The thieves attach devices on the machines that are not easy to detect. You may need to look for varying color surfaces of the ATM machine and anything that seems to protrude more such as the card slot “mouth”. Similarly, you may also need to check for hidden cameras that may be installed on wall, at some point on the machine or other places inside the ATM access room.
Additionally, you can try to plug out or push anything that looks suspicious to see if it is loose or if it falls. If you see that something on the ATM or gas pump does not match with the color and style of the machine, you should stop using the machine immediately. Remember to look at the other ATM machines or gas pumps card readers to see if their design matches the one you want to use.
If you find that the designs are not matching, be very cautious. There could be a skimmer fitted on the surface of the ATM or gas pump card readers. Moreover, if the keypad is hard to press, refrain from using that machine because it may be a fake keypad that overlays the original keypad.
When keying in your PIN number, you may block the pad with your hand so that no one can see or no camera may record the image of the keypad. Whether you are operating a hand-held pinpad, an ATM machine, or other point-of-sale terminal device, you need to use your hand and body to cover the keypad. This prevents shoulder surfers and any tiny pinhole cameras from capturing your important information.
It is advisable that you avoid using PIN numbers when filling your tank at the gas pump stations. Since you have an option to use a debit or credit card when you pay at pump stations, it is advised that you choose the credit option. With the credit option, you do not enter your PIN but your billing ZIP code and therefore, if there is a skimmer device or someone watching over you, he or she will not know your PIN number.
In premises where you hand over your card to an employee to swipe it such as restaurants, you should ensure that it remains within your sight. You should never take your eyes off of the server. The swiping of the card should be done in an open place where you are able to see what the attendant is doing. It only takes a second with skimmers for your data to be stolen.
In addition, you may opt to pay up front especially at more casual restaurants like diners. You can request to pay at the restaurant’s terminal rather than giving your card to an attendant to process the payment. If you are not paying at a register in a restaurant, use cash. Do not risk giving the attendant your card to swipe it.
Another thing you need to do is monitor your account activities and if you suspect any defaults in your balance, you need to inform your bank. It is usually very difficult to know when and where your card might have been skimmed and probably by the time you detect that, you have suffered a lot of losses.
If your credit card is integrated with the RFID technology, it means that it may be susceptible to skimming with the use of a smartphone. Although this kind of skimming may not be easy, you need to take precautions because the thieves are determined to use whichever method to get information from your card.
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