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  • Writer's pictureDan Malmberg

Watch Out for Credit Card Skimming

Something that I have taken for granted living in the United States is the relative security that we have in our financial systems. People in many countries have to be extremely cautious when doing something like pulling money from an ATM machine, or even securing belongings to avoid being pick-pocketed. Unfortunately, that faith that we have in our systems has created an opportunity for criminals to gather financial information from unsuspecting people through the use of skimming devices.

A credit card skimmer can be creatively installed in a number of ways in many different places. The basic concept of credit card skimming is that a piece of hardware is installed on a device that scans credit card information. Common places are gas station pumps, ATM machines, Point-of-Sale terminals, and vending machines. The data from the magnetic strips of those cards is then collected by the installer.

This method of collection contributes significantly to Bureau of Justice Statistics data from 2014 that states that 7% of people over the age of 16 had experienced some type of identity theft. Of those victims, 86% experienced the theft or misuse of credit card or banking information.

With the increased availability and use of technology, including 3D printers, credit card skimming is becoming more creative. Collection devices look increasingly more legitimate and more creative techniques are being used. These techniques can include the use of a false pin pad, card readers that can cover the original card reader, and even ethernet connections to a machine.

The best things that a consumer can do to prevent being victimized are taking a couple of extra moments before using a credit or debit card. Look at the card scanner to see if anything looks out of place. Oftentimes if a fraudulent device is installed, it won’t quite line up with the rest of the machine. On gas pumps, there is a seal placed over the card reader. Make sure that seal is still in place. Try to use businesses and machines that are in well-lit, well-trafficked areas that will make it more difficult for a criminal to install a device. Scan the outside of any machine to look for wires or cords that look out of place. Finally, do some periodic research to see what new techniques are being used.

It’s unfortunate that this is something that we have to worry about, but taking a few extra seconds to think about where you are swiping your card, and doing a quick inspection can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars and the hassle of correcting identity theft.

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