Fraud 101: Skimmers


Inserting your card? Wiggle the slot first.

You got some money at an ATM the other day, and now some funny charges are showing up on your account. There's a chance you may have fallen victim to a skimmer, an illegal device attached to a payment terminal that captures debit and credit card information. Con men will attach these to card slots wherever they can -- and their use is on the rise, according to experts, especially at gas pumps.

Diligence is important, as once you've swiped your card, it may be too late. While scammers used to return and pick up the skimmer to access the card information it had captured, many now use Bluetooth to wirelessly transmit the stolen data to a nearby laptop or other device. Some also contain tiny cameras to record your PIN as you enter it. From there, your information can be sold to identity thieves for use in their attempts at fraud.

Here are some ways to protect your personal information from being skimmed:

  • Stop and observe. Does the card slot look different than it did the last time you used it or different from others nearby? Is there a security seal over the card area – and is it voided? If things look off, you're better off playing it safe.
  • Wiggle the card slot. Skimmers are temporary by design and have to be put on and removed without attracting much attention. If the slot moves when you touch it, do not put your card in it and alert an employee or the police.
  • Turn on Bluetooth on your phone. If there's an unexplained connection available, that could be the signal from the skimmer. 
  • Go inside. If you're extra concerned – if there's been a rash of skimming incidents near you, for instance – don't use unattended machines. Pay in the store at a gas station and withdraw cash from supervised ATMs or from tellers.

If your debit or credit card is compromised, contact the card issuer or bank immediately and then report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission.

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