Card skimming is defined by the ATM Industry Association as the unauthorized capture of magnetic stripe information by modifying the hardware or software of a payment device, or through the use of a separate card reader. Once consumers swipe their card through the fake card reader, their account information is automatically sent to the waiting criminals.
The criminals download the stolen information and encode it to a blank card, then proceed to withdrawal money from the victim’s account. According to Bankrate.com, debit and credit card skimmers steal nearly $1 billion annually from unsuspecting consumers.
While difficult to catch the criminals installing the equipment, you can help protect yourself from becoming a victim by following a few quick steps next time you use the ATM:
- Inspect the ATM – Avoid using ATMs in poorly lit or low trafficked areas. Experts often recommend choosing a bank ATM over standalone ATMs in public places. Look for new or suspiciously placed cameras and unusual signage. Don’t hesitate to walk away and use another ATM if something appears out of the ordinary.
- Protect your PIN – When entering your PIN, cover the keypad with your other hand to protect your private information from any cameras in the vicinity. FICO also recommends you periodically change your PIN.
- Monitor your statements – Even the most careful person can fall victim to skimmers. Keep a close eye out for suspicious charges on the itemized breakdown of your accounts. Through your financial institution, you can also sign up for alerts that will notify you when certain types of transaction occur.
- Report fraud immediately – Report any fraudulent activity to your bank as soon as you discover it. Consumer protections for debit and credit cards vary but depend largely on when the fraudulent activity is reported.
Read one victim’s story: Cybercrime official victim of ATM scam
Has anyone you know been a victim of skimming?