Credit Card Skimming: Thieves compromise ATMs and other point-of-sale terminals to steal your data and drain your bank account

Last Updated: June 5, 2024By Tags: , , , , , ,

Credit card “skimming” is nothing new in the age of point-of-sale (POS) and ATMs, but its nefarious practice is on the rise. The modus operandi: A thief affixes or attaches a credit card reader on top of a legitimate card reader at a store or gas station. This particular thievery scheme is estimated to cause up to $1 billion in losses annually.

According to the FBI, fuel pump skimmers are usually installed within the internal wiring of the machine and aren’t generally visible to the customer. These skimming devices store data in order to be downloaded and/or wirelessly transferred to the fraudster later. The FBI recommends choosing a fuel pump closest to the store and in direct view of the cashier/attendant. Obviously, thieves are less likely to alter the pumps in plain view of a gas station employee. Also, run your debit card as a credit card, but if that’s not an option, be sure to cover the keypad when you enter your PIN. To be absolutely cautious, it’s best to consider paying inside at the cashier and not outside at the pump. It’s a bit inconvenient, but consider how even more inconvenient to have all the money disappear from your bank account.

And then there’s ATM skimming, which offers even more options to thieves. Most ATM skimmer devices fit over the original card reader. Some ATM skimmers are actually inserted in the card reader, placed in the terminal, or situated along exposed cables. If that isn’t bad enough, thieves install pinhole cameras on ATMs to record a customer entering their PIN. Pinhole cameras are often placed in different areas on the ATM terminal, so they’re not always easy to spot. And it gets worse. Sometimes keypad overlays are placed over the actual keypad, which is a thief’s alternative to the pinhole camera. This device records the customer’s actual keystrokes and transmits that data to the thief.

More tips from the FBI for using an ATM or POS terminal:

• Inspect ATMs, POS terminals, and other card readers before using. Look for anything loose, crooked, damaged, or scratched. Don’t use any card reader if you notice anything unusual.
• Pull at the edges of the keypad before entering your PIN. Then, cover the keypad when you enter your PIN to prevent cameras from recording your entry.
• Use ATMs in a well-lit, indoor location, which are less vulnerable targets.
• Be alert for skimming devices in tourist areas, which are popular targets.
• Use debit and credit cards with chip technology. In the U.S., there are fewer devices that steal chip data versus magnetic strip data.
• Avoid using your debit card when you have linked accounts. Use a credit card instead.
• Contact your financial institution if the ATM doesn’t return your card after you end or cancel a transaction.

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