For a crime that relies on such a small device, ATM card skimming continues to cause big problems. What’s more, statistics show that the issue has gotten worse in recent months: From January to April of 2015, card information was stolen at the highest rate in at least 20 years, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal.
Preventing this type of fraud doesn’t take much work. It’s all about knowing how to identify a card reader that’s been interfered with and altered. Here’s what to look out for the next time you withdraw cash or swipe your plastic at a gas station or vending machine.
The back of almost every debit and credit card features a strip of magnetic tape that stores that piece of plastic’s most important information, such as its account number and expiration date. By placing a hard-to-detect copying device into an ATM’s card reader,criminals can duplicate that info. They then can load the data onto counterfeit cards and make fraudulent purchases.
Card-skimming devices are relatively cheap, unsophisticated machines that don’t take long to assemble,which is a killer combination for low-level crooks looking to make a quick buck.
Because ATMs and gas pumps are popular targets for skimmers, try to get into the habit of examining card readers at these locations. Keep an eye out for loose bits of plastic and dried glue or tape. Criminals may also place a thin plastic covering over an ATM’s keypad to copy PINs. Some will even go so far as to install tiny hidden cameras aimed at the keypad.
Consider paying with cash when filling the tank at especially remote gas stations, as these tend to be card-skimming hot spots. Try to limit ATM use to those machines that are monitored by legitimate surveillance cameras, as these often scare away would-be fraudsters.
Perform a quick safety check before swiping your plastic at vending machines or when using a portable card reader, which you might run into at certain shops and restaurants.
Practice the same level of caution if you bank with an institution with ATMs in its entryway that are accessible only by swiping your card. Make sure that this reader hasn’t been tampered with.
It’s a smart move to sign up for mobile alerts, which are offered by financial institutions like MemberFocus Community Credit Union. This service notifies you whenever major transactions are made using your plastic.
If you think your credit card got skimmed, notify your financial services provider immediately. It will be able to freeze your account and cut off criminals’ access to your funds. Ideally, though, you should be able to avoid this nightmare altogether by making sure that the card reader you’re using hasn’t been hacked.
Tony Armstrong, NerdWallet
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