How to Avoid Getting Your Credit Card Skimmed

It happens every day to thousands of people across the country. Consumers swipe their credit and debit cards through gas pumps, ATMs and other card processing devices that carry hidden skimming machines, totally unaware that their account information has been compromised.

These electronic devices, mounted in front of standard card reading slots, are responsible for the theft of over $300,000 a day from compromised accounts.

If you don’t want to fall victim to this all-too-common scam, then here are some things to keep in mind to avoid getting your credit card skimmed:

  • Closely examine a card receptor before feeding it your information. Thieves that use skimmers mounted on credit card processing machines like ATMs rely on the fact that their jury-rigged devices look completely innocuous, as if they had always been there. That’s why it’s necessary to examine a card receptor slot before passing your piece of plastic through it – especially when you’re using a standalone ATM or gas pump. If a machine has an oddly protruding receptor slot, discolored or ill-fitted components (such as a sheath), or if it displays any other evidence of tampering, make the safer decision. Find somewhere else to process your card.
  • Keep an eye on the register. Some thieves don’t use hidden machines to steal your information – they do it in plain sight. Store clerks and waiters have been known to sometimes “double swipe” customer credit cards. They’ll pass it off as a standard procedure, but in reality, they’re skimming your account numbers. To combat this, always keep an eye on your credit card when a clerk is handling it –  and make sure to pay with cash when you’re at a restaurant, since restaurants don’t process your card at your table.
  • Look out for cameras. Skimming technology has evolved over the past few years. Thieves can now use thermal imaging cameras to rip off your PIN number at ATMs and gas pumps. As a result, you should always check around the machine – especially the frame of ATM screens – for any miniature hidden cameras. Since these cameras are often paired with standard skimmers, finding one malicious device could mean that another is lurking just a few inches away.
  • Check your statements regularly. Thanks to the CARD Act, cases of credit card fraud only carry a $50 liability for the victim. But watch out: if you don’t report fraudulent charges on your debit card within two days, you could be liable for up to $500. If you’ve been skimmed, you won’t know until it’s too late – so keep an eye out for suspicious charges on your monthly statement.

While retailers are taking steps to prevent skimming (such as putting tamper-evident stickers on gas pumps), consumers are ultimately responsible for keeping their accounts safe. Always be on the lookout for suspicious devices or practices around credit card processing machines, and if you do find evidence of a skimming machine, be a civic hero – report it to the store manager or the authorities.

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