The next time you need to withdraw some cash at an ATM, check twice to make sure an unwanted intruder isn’t trying to skim a little off the top. Card thieves have all sorts of tricks up their sleeves that they can use to steal your card information these days, and “skimming” is the most popular method by far.
By installing hidden skimming devices on ATMs and other devices that process plastic, thieves can gain access to your checking account or line of credit without your knowledge. These devices, installed in the card slot, will read your card information before it passes into the machine while a tiny camera records your PIN number as you enter it. And the worst part is that these skimming devices can be found everywhere – even at your local bank. Let’s take a look at four of the most dangerous places to swipe your card.
1) ATMs. The skimmers that thieves attach to these machines have gotten so advanced that they’re completely undetectable, save for a pin-sized hole near the card slot. Since it’s nearly impossible to tell which ATM is safe and which isn’t, it’s best to avoid ATMs on street corners. Instead, try to use machines located inside bank lobbies, convenience stores and other buildings. Since indoor machines are monitored by both cameras and employees, they’re much less likely to be hiding a skimmer.
2) Gas Pumps. Another risky machine is your local gas pump. Like ATMs, gas pumps process hundreds of card transactions per day, which makes them a real draw for thieves. Luckily, these skimmers are much more avoidable than the ones on ATMs. If you want to use your card, just press “Pay Inside” on the pump and let the clerk process the transaction. It’s less convenient than paying at the pump, but it’s also much safer.
3) Restaurants. A thief doesn’t need to install a skimmer in a machine in order to steal your card information. In restaurants, where credit and debit cards are processed out-of-sight in the back, a thief can simply run your card through a desktop skimmer to access to your money. Recently, eight servers at some of Washington, D.C.’s most notable restaurants used pocket skimmers to rack up nearly $800,000 in charges on customer cards. That’s a staggering amount of fraud. To prevent it from happening to you, pay with cash.
4) Self Checkouts. ATMs and gas pumps are getting harder to crack, so the self-checkout aisle has become the newest golden goose for identity thieves. Less than a year ago, Lucky’s Supermarkets reported that it had found skimmers in 24 of its California stores. Before they were discovered, the skimmers managed to pilfer the information of more than 2,000 customers. As skimming technology continues to evolve, this type of theft will become increasingly prevalent, so be wary the next time you make trip to your grocery or department store. To guarantee your safety, just let a clerk ring you up.
Skimming is a crime that capitalizes on convenience. You don’t have to swipe your cards at a gas pump or in the self-checkout aisle to pay for a purchase – but because it saves you time, thieves know that you will. The good news is that this makes skimmers relatively easy to avoid. If you follow these tips and let a clerk process your transaction whenever possible, it should be easy to ensure that the only person who has access to your money is you.