The next time you go to pay or receive money from a fuel pump, ATM or point-of-sale (POS) system, be aware of the signs the machine may have a skimming device attached. Skimming occurs when devices illegally installed on machines you normally insert/swipe your credit or debit card capture data or record cardholders’ PINs. They can also be small, pocketable devices tucked away in dishonest employees’ pockets for easy access to run your card through. These scammers may even use small cameras to capture you entering your PIN number as well. Criminals use the data to create fake debit or credit cards and then steal from victims’ accounts.
Skimming scams are no joke. Instances of card skimming were up in the United States in 2022, with more than 161,000 impacted cards identified, a five-fold increase over 2021 and a more than three-fold increase in the total number of cards compromised, according to FICO. The FBI estimates skimming costs financial institutions and consumers more than $1 billion each year.
Before inserting your card into any machine, the Better Business Bureau offers these tips to avoid skimming:
• Inspect the machine. If the card reader seems loose, crooked or damaged, the graphics aren’t aligned or part of the machine is a different color, don’t insert or swipe your card.
• Check the security seal near the reader. If there’s a broken seal, it’s a sign there might be a skimmer installed. Another sign could be if the keypad numbers are hard to press or feel thick.
• Be wary if the reader seems to have a tighter-than-normal grip on your card, there could be a shim inside. Cancel your transaction and notify the business if this occurs.
• Look for hidden cameras around where you would insert your card.
• Cover the keypad with your hand when entering your PIN to block cameras or shoulder surfers.
• Go to a teller to withdraw cash at a bank. If you must use an ATM, use ATMs in banks rather than stand-alone machines. Be wary of non-bank ATMs. FICO reports that 60 percent of skimming occurs at privately-owned ATMs, such as cash-dispensing machines that tend to be located in convenience stores, restaurants, grocery stores or check cashing establishments.
• Always try to use machines in public view with security monitoring. They are less likely to be tampered with.
• Use “tap-and-go” features on your credit card instead of swiping or inserting your card. Also, consider using contactless mobile services, such as Apple, Samsung or Google Pay.
• Use debit and credit cards with chip technology.
• Be alert for skimming devices in tourist areas.
• Trust your instincts. If you’re in doubt about the authenticity of a machine, use a different machine or payment method.
If your card has been compromised, you may want to put a freeze on your credit report to ensure no new accounts are opened in your name. Finally, continue to monitor all your accounts and check your credit report regularly to watch for unusual activity.
If you’ve become a victim of a skimming scam, contact the police and your bank or credit card issuer immediately. You can also report the matter to BBB Scam Tracker at BBB.org/ScamTracker or the Federal Trade Commission, ReportFraud.ftc.gov. To learn more about scams, visit bbb.org/all/scamtips.