Credit card theft, particularly skimming, is a common way by which consumers are cheated out of credit card data. Skimming refers to the reading of your credit or debit card’s magnetic strip by a malicious device installed on a payment terminal or ATM by a thief. In this blog, we tell you how to beat credit card skimmers and keep your card safe.
How Do Credit Card Skimmers Work, and Why are they Dangerous?
Magnetic strip cards, as opposed to the relatively new chip-enabled ones (which are known as EMV cards), do not scramble card data from transaction to transaction. This way, when data is stolen, the thief can use it to either create fraudulent credit cards, or make purchases online.
Even with EMV cards, which encrypt data after each transaction, consumers are not entirely safe. Chip-enabled cards still have magnetic strips so they can remain compatible with systems that don’t yet support the chip. As of April, it was estimated that only 22 percent of retailers were capable of supporting EMV cards.
How to Avoid a Data Compromise
Watch Out for Obvious Tampering
It would be a bit unreasonable to conduct a thorough check of every ATM or credit card terminal you come across, but you can keep an eye out for obvious signs of tampering. Indicators of meddling include:
- Discolored or misaligned graphics on the machine’s screen.
- Buttons on the keypad seem hard to press.
- Presence of a camera that has a direct line of view to your card or the keypad.
- Card reader does not have flashing lights, while other machines do (or vice versa).
If your instinct tells you that a machine has been tampered with, do not use it.
|Credit card skimmers can be hard to spot. Image source: Kamloops RCMP|
Protect your Plastic
The following methods will help keep your information safe as you use a payment terminal or ATM:
- Cover the keypad with your hand as your enter your PIN.
- Keep your card in sight, and do not let anyone leave your presence with it.
- Wiggle the card as you insert it. Most credit card skimmers require the magnetic strip to enter the reader straight, in a single motion. By wiggling the card, you can prevent a skimmer from reading your data.
- Keep an eye on your checking accounts and credit card statements so you will know immediately if you fall victim to a skimmer.
Be Aware of Where you Swipe
Skimmers are frequently installed on ATMs and payment terminals that are not used very often. By targeting low-traffic machines, it’s more likely that thieves can go unnoticed. ATMs in frequently patronized banks and restaurants are typically safer than the ATM in your local corner store where nobody shops.
What to Do if your Card is Compromised
In the case that your card’s data is breached and you notice that it’s being used to conduct fraudulent transactions, you should:
- Immediately notify the agency from which you received the card. If you don’t notify the bank or credit card issuer immediately, you may be liable for some or all of the bogus charges.
- Call the police. Having your credit card stolen is just like having your identity stolen. File a police report and keep the report number stored in a safe place.
- Contact Equifax, Experian and Transunion. The three major credit bureaus can place a security freeze on your cards to prevent new authorizations without your consent.
If you have not yet obtained an EMV chip card, request one from your card issuer, and use it whenever possible. Also, keep these tips for avoiding skimmers in mind. By being vigilant and avoiding sketchy machines, it’s likely that your card will never be skimmed.