In today’s society, we use credit cards on a daily basis. We whip out those little pieces of plastic to make purchases online, to fill our cars up with gas and to stock up our pantry with groceries. While these cards are convenient and allow users to avoid carrying around stacks of cash in their wallets or purses, they are susceptible to fraudulent use if anyone gets ahold of a card’s vital information.
What Is Credit Card Skimming
One of the most common types of credit card fraud is called skimming. Credit card skimming is when the numbers and personal information (such as PIN codes or other protected data) is stolen during an ordinary, legitimate transaction. Skimming can be as simple as a sales associate at a store memorizing or jotting down your card’s numbers while you’re not looking, or as complicated as sophisticated electronic equipment attached to seemingly normal credit card terminals. Oftentimes, credit card skimming can be difficult to detect before it is too late, and even then it can be tough for consumers to determine exactly where the information theft occurred.
Places Where Credit Card Skimming Is Most Likely To Occur
Credit card skimming can happen anywhere that you use your card. The thief could be the proprietor of a business, an entry-level sales associate or even a third party who installed a card-reading device without the business’ knowledge. Some situations are more likely to be targeted by card skimmers than others, so understanding a few of the most common methods will allow you to stay alert when a potentially threatening situation presents itself.
- ATMs – Automated teller machines are the most common place for advanced credit card skimming to occur. This is because these machines often have little to no security, and are not routinely checked unless a problem is noted. Credit card thieves are known to routinely installed third-party electronic devices over the top of the ATM’s credit card reader. The device is small and often identical to the legitimate equipment, making it almost undetectable to the untrained consumer. This piece of electronics records the information off of the credit card, while a discreet camera is generally set up to record PIN numbers.
- Restaurants – Restaurants give skimmers direct access to diners’ credit cards. When you are ready to pay your bill, your server will likely take your card out of your site, to the location of their payment processing device. This gives an unsavory waiter or waitress a change to write down your information or use a device to record the information off of your card’s magnetic strip.
- Call Centers – Call centers are another common place where credit card skimming occurs. Most often, these call centers pay their employees a minimal wage, and many times they are located overseas in countries where the average quality of life is lower. These locations provide a perfect place for a credit card skimmer to access your data. When you give your credit card out over the phone, there is often little oversight of what the person on the other end is doing with your data.
How You Can Avoid Becoming A Victim
While anyone can be a victim of credit card skimming, taking a few precautions can greatly reduce your chances of being affected.
- Use ATMs located at busy bank branches. These are more likely to be monitored and inspected regularly than those in remote locations.
- Before swiping your card at any unmonitored terminal such as an ATM or gas pump, gently wiggle the card reader to assure that it is not a false cover.
- Always cover the PIN pad when using an ATM or other public device to enter your four digit code.
- Avoid using your credit card in places where they take the card out of your sight. In order to combat this problem, many restaurants now process your card at your table with a tablet or portable credit card terminal.
- Check your statement regularly, and notify your bank or credit card issuer as soon as potentially fraudulent transactions are noted.
Credit card skimming is a problem that can happen to anyone, often without them noticing until their next card statement. Avoid using your credit card and remote locations which are unmonitored or unsecured, and don’t let store or restaurant employees take your card out of your sight. Most banks and card issuers have policies in place to help you recover your money if you become a victim of fraud, but the process is often a lengthy one which can cripple you financially until it is resolved. Becoming a smart consumer and minimizing your chances of becoming a victim of credit card skimming is the best line of defense against this common crime.