How to spot a credit card skimmer

Credit card scams are increasing and card skimming is becoming one of the more common ways for cyber criminals to steal your information.

If you use your credit or debit card to withdraw cash from an ATM, pay for fuel at the pump, or buy food or hire videos from a vending machine, then you are at risk.

Cyber criminals can install credit card skimmers on any of these machines, which can be used to harvest the data of every person who swipes their card through them. Thieves use this data to create cloned cards or access bank accounts to steal money. But there are some tell-tale signs that can help you to avoid being caught out by credit card skimmers.

Spotting a skimmer
Skimmers are usually the size of a deck of playing cards. The unit fits over the existing card reader. Sometimes, scammers will attach a camera somewhere nearby that can view the keypad on which you enter your PIN. These cameras can either be mounted at the top of the ATM, as part of the skimmer, or in the form of a brochure holder attached to the side of the ATM booth.

This video shows you an example of what a skimmer can look like.

These skimmers can look very similar to a standard card reader, so before you insert your card, check to see if the card reader wiggles or if the placement looks suspicious. If you look at the image below, you can see how the arrows sit very close to the reader. If you see this at your ATM, it’s best not to insert your card.

Check for damage from tampering
Don’t use an ATM or vending machine that shows any signs of tampering. Look for these signs at the top of the ATM, beside the screen, on the card reader, the speakers and the keypad. Sometimes it may look in order, but not feel right. If the machine you’re using is next to another machine, compare them to see if there are any differences. If any part of the machine is a different colour or material, or if any graphics aren’t aligned properly, you’d be wise to use another machine.

Wiggle it
As you can see in the above video, it may pay to give the card reader of your machine a wiggle before you insert your card. Also check if the keypad is secure. If there are any loose parts, boycott that machine.

Cover the keypad
Even if you’re confident that your machine is secure, it’s still best to cover your keypad when you enter your PIN.

Check your whereabouts
Criminals will more often install a skimmer in quieter areas, because they don’t want to be spotted installing hardware or coming back to harvest their ‘catch’.

Steer clear of ATMs on the weekend
It’s more likely that you’ll be ‘skimmed’ on a weekend than during the week, because it’s more difficult for a customer to report suspicious activity when the banks are closed. Criminals will typically install a skimmer on a Friday night then remove them before Monday.

If you feel as if your card has been skimmed, the best course of action is to report it immediately. That way, your bank can cancel or suspend your card and any money stolen has a better chance of being returned.

Have you ever been ‘skimmed’? How did you deal with it?

Related articles:
Is your credit card being scammed?
Credit card defender
Credit card security risk

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