What Is Card Skimming?

by | Feb 22, 2023

Credit Card Skimming

You pull up at a gas station, running late for work. After running your credit card through the reader, you pump your gas and drive off. It seems like an average benign day. Then, a week later, you’ve got extra charges on your bank statement from all over the city. You’ve just been the victim of a credit card skimmer. Now you’re going to have to untangle your finances from the identity thief that went shopping on your dime. How did this happen to you? And what can you do to prevent credit card skimming in the future?

What Is Card Skimming?

Credit card skimming is a crime that most people stopped worrying about until law enforcement saw a recent uptick. Skimming cases have been popping up in U.S. cities like Baltimore, New York, and Boston.

How does skimming work? With a little technological sleight of hand. Skimming machines are housed in a cover or attachment made to look like the standard credit card machine. However, the overlay copies the information from the card’s magnetic stripe and stores it or broadcasts it to a fraudster. Once skimmers have your information, they can either sell it on the black web or use it for fraudulent purchases.

Crooks commonly install these devices on the card terminals of gas pumps or ATMs, as businesses tend to leave these machines unattended for long periods of time. A criminal can install the device in just a few seconds, as caught on camera in an ABC news segment. Sometimes, the thieves dress up as maintenance crew and “service” credit card machines. In reality, they take this opportunity to install overlay terminals. Fraudsters with time and know-how can install hardware directly into the credit card slot of the machine, completely obstructing it from view while still effectively stealing all the credit card information that goes through it.

In other words, it’s a crime that can be difficult to detect until it’s too late. So it’s smart to learn the signs.

How Do I Protect Myself from Card Skimming?

The first step is to recognize potential skimming machines. The FBI published a useful chart to check for possibilities. The three main hardware components are hidden cameras, the skimmers themselves, and keypad overlays.

Look for any misalignment of the hardware. The most popular type of skimmer is an overlay case. Anything on the card reader that doesn’t line up or is loose could be a bad sign. Also, many gas pumps have security tape around the monitors. If that tape looks as if that’s missing or different from the other pumps, move on to a different machine.

Most skimmers get their information from the magstripe on your card. Use the security features your card offers, such as tap-to-pay functionality or a mobile digital wallet feature.

Skimmers also need your PIN (or ZIP code for a credit card). Sometimes a skimming device uses a hidden camera to get this information. Use your hand to cover the keypad while entering these digits. Or if you can run your debit card as a credit card, you’ll avoid using your PIN altogether. Another giveaway of skimming is that the buttons are too hard to push down⁠—this could mean that a keyboard overlay is in place.

One of the best things you can do is to use machines that are in full view of an employee. These machines are the least likely to be tampered with. Even if the skimming devices don’t take much time to install, potential thieves don’t want to be caught in the open.

Finally, assuming this is an option for you, use a credit card instead of a debit card. Credit cards include many fraud protection protocols by design. They’re often much more secure to use in potentially tricky situations.

What to Do If Your Card Gets Skimmed

If you discover you have been a victim of skimmers, you should immediately contact your bank or credit card provider. Many credit card companies will contact you regarding suspicious charges. However, it’s important to know there are fewer protections once the thieves get a hold of your personal information and start making charges. Speed is essential. On a positive note, financial institutions typically have robust identity theft insurance in place.

Sometimes, the retailer that owns the tampered machines even steps in. When Costco found that several of their credit card machines had skimmers attached, they offered a year of identity recovery services and monitoring free of charge.

Although an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure in fraud cases, there are avenues for you to recover your personal information and any lost money.

Total Protection with Deep Sentinel

Deep Sentinel wants to help our customers feel safe and protected in every part of their lives. That’s why we provide up-to-date information on possible threats facing you in the world today. For more articles on security cameras and other security topics, check out the Deep Sentinel blog.

And if you’re a business owner with concerns about card skimming, Deep Sentinel’s business security cameras can prevent fraudsters from installing any malicious hardware. Deep Sentinel’s live security guards watch every inch of your property after hours, stopping criminals in their tracks. Learn how gas station security cameras and retail security monitoring can protect your customers and, by extension, your business.

Need a Solution that Prevents Crime?
Deep Sentinel is the only security technology that delivers the experience of a personal guard on every customer’s home and business. Visit deepsentinel.com or call 833-983-6006

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