Skimmers are devices that criminals affix to the card-reading portions of ATMs, gas pumps and other point-of-sale (POS) devices to steal debit and credit card information. Skimmers take only seconds to install and stay there until someone realizes a machine has been compromised.
When a customer inserts his card into a machine to withdraw money or make a purchase, the skimmer records the personal card information. Thieves come back and retrieve the stolen data. All the while, the customer has no idea his account information has been stolen. Thieves then create cloned cards or hack the victim’s bank accounts to steal money.
And your new card with the EMV (Europay, MasterCard, Visa) chip won’t necessarily protect you. Even though new cards have these chips, your banking data is still on the magnetic stripe to accommodate machines that aren’t compatible with chips yet.
Websites have been found where chip skimmers are sold. Most chip skimmers are used in Latin America, which was the first region to adopt the EMV chip. Earlier versions of the chips use static data authentication instead of dynamic data authentication, which allows thieves to create new, usable chips using stolen card data. Chips that are authenticated with dynamic data authentication are much harder to breach.
Fight credit card and debit card data theft
There are steps you can take to deter credit card theft.
- Use ATMs selectively. Thieves often install skimmers on ATMs in areas that aren’t busy and don’t have security cameras nearby. Selecting ATMs that are inside banks or in busy locations like grocery stores lessens your likelihood of using a machine with a skimmer.
- Look for tampering. When using ATMs or other POS machines, look for obvious signs of tampering. Graphics that aren’t aligned correctly or parts that have a different color than the rest of the machine are signs the machine has been compromised. When using an ATM at a bank, quickly look at the other ATM to spot obvious differences between the two. If, for example, one machine has a flashing card entry and the other doesn’t, don’t use either machine and then notify the bank. If you feel any wiggling or loose parts, this is another indicator a skimmer may have been installed. Thieves often install hidden cameras close to machines so they can record you entering your PIN. Covering the keypad as you enter your PIN can prevent thieves from accessing your account.
- Opt for NFC transactions when possible. Using Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or Android Pay at credit card terminals that accept near field communications (NFC) payments protects you from skimmers. NFC services tokenize your credit card information, replacing your sensitive data with unique symbols that record the necessary information without compromising security.
What to do if your card info is stolen
If you are able to determine that your information has been stolen, there are several courses of action you can take.
- Call your bank. Immediately call the banking institution where the fraudulent charges were made. The bank will refund your lost money, as long as you report the theft as soon as possible. However, businesses do not guarantee these same protections.
- Change your passwords. Change the usernames, passwords and PINs for all of your credit cards, bank accounts and any other online shopping accounts.
- Notify the credit bureaus. Notify Experian, Equifax and TransUnion of the theft. You may also request a credit freeze, restricting outside access to your credit report. Depending on the state you live in, you may be charged for this service.
If you apply for credit while the freeze is in effect, you’ll need to temporarily lift the freeze so the lender can receive a copy of your credit report.
- File a report with the Federal Trade Commission. When you file a complaint with the FTC, an identity theft affidavit certifying that you’ve been the victim of identity theft will be created. You can show this to credit-reporting agencies as a step to undo the damage thieves have caused.
- File a police report. Filing a police report provides you with legal evidence of the incident. It also entitles you to freeze your credit without being charged.
- Keep a close eye on your banking statements. Check your account statements regularly and notify your bank if you see charges you don’t recognize.