Watch out for credit card skimmers
Image Source: Flickr CC User Angus Fraser
According to police in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, credit card skimming is on the rise. They’ve dealt with more than 125 cases in their jurisdiction alone, and the practice is becoming more prevalent across the state. Here’s a look at how this fraud works along with five ways to protect yourself when you swipe your card.
How Credit Card Skimming Works
If you’ve never heard of the credit card skimming scam, it involves thieves copying your credit card data and making a replica of your card. You’ll likely notice if one of your credit cards goes missing, but this scam cleverly lets you keep your card while still stealing from you. In fact, the Winston-Salem police report that 94% of these types of fraud victims never lost their cards.
The scam uses a skimmer – a device that attaches to a card reader. They're sometimes installed at gas stations where you pay at the pump (or at ATMs). The skimmer is attached to the gas pump and may look authentic enough to be undetected at a glance. You swipe your card and the gas station processes your purchase normally, while the skimmer records your data for later use.
The device reads the info on the magnetic stripe on your card and a replica card can then be made from the data. While you’re swiping your card in North Carolina, someone else can be swiping a fake version elsewhere. This can quickly eat up your credit limit and result in you having to instigate a credit card complaint and dispute process to get the fake charges off your credit card bill.
When skimmers are used at an ATM, fraudsters may also place a small camera to record your hand motions so they can get your PIN number. In some cases, skimming can rack up charges, but in others, it can result in money drained directly from your bank account. Either way, it’s not a good thing to fall prey to a skimming scam.
How Can You Protect Yourself from Credit Card Skimming? Here Are Five Tips!
#1 Skip the ATM
If you need cash, go into the bank and use a teller. It’s a hassle but should eliminate the risk of card skimming. Alternately, get cash back at the grocery store instead. You can usually get out at least $100 at a time and max out at $300 per day (sometimes more). If you need more cash, go into the bank.
#2 Use Your Chip Card
Many card issuers are now sending out replacement cards with smart chips embedded in them (the little squares on the front). With these cards, there’s no swiping and each transaction is encrypted so that data can't be stolen. Stick to establishments that have upgraded to these advanced readers to reduce fraud risk.
#3 Check before You Swipe
Card skimmers attach on top of the real card readers at an ATM or gas pump. Look for readers that don’t match the others, that seem to be loose, or that don’t fit with the color or design of their surroundings. If it looks funny at all, don’t risk using it – go elsewhere.
#4 Don’t Let Anyone Walk off with Your Card
Card skimmers can also be used by fraudsters in person. Anyone who walks away with your card, like a server at a restaurant, could swipe your card through a skimmer even as they swipe it for legitimate reasons. Never let your card out of your sight. You can follow the server to the register and wait to get your card back.
#5 Check Statements Often
Make a practice of checking the activity of the credit cards you use regularly so that you can keep an eye out for fraud. It's a good idea to review your statements a couple of times a month. With debit cards, it’s even more important to monitor your account closely since there’s a shorter window of time to report fraud and get back any money that was taken.
If you've fallen victim to credit card skimming, in addition to notifying your credit card or debit card issuers, contact the local police to report it. You can also notify the North Carolina Department of Justice if you ever fall victim to a consumer scam.
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