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The Resource Center Credit Fraud & Credit Monitoring The Resource Center | article

What is a Credit Card Skimmer?

A credit card skimmer is a tiny device ID thieves can install in places you swipe or insert your cards.

If you’re careful when it comes to protecting your identity, you might use a credit card rather than a debit card for your online purchases, lock down your accounts with difficult-to-crack passwords and even shred all of the sensitive documents that pass over your desk. However, what you might not realize is that despite even your most careful preparations, credit card skimmers could trick you into handing over your financial information to an identity thief without even realizing it.

A credit card skimmer is a tiny device ID thieves can install in places where you swipe or insert your cards. Once installed, it may go completely undetected by most consumers. However, each time they use their cards at the affected ATM or point-of-sale terminal, the skimmer captures their card data and stores it until the fraudster returns. One of the most dangerous things about these devices, reports PC Mag, is that they typically do not stop the ATM or terminal from working as intended. Therefore, consumers may walk away from the transaction completely unaware that their personal information had just been stolen.

The skimmers, which are located directly atop the card reader, can only capture the information stored on the card, such as the card number, expiry date, name, etc. To get the associated PIN, scammers often also install a camera, or even a fake PIN pad, to detect the code required to make purchases with a given card. Once both pieces of information have been stolen, the fraudsters can make online purchases, create fake credit cards using the acquired data, or may simply sell it to the highest bidder. All the while, the victim may have no idea his or her identity was ever put at risk.

Tips for spotting a skimmer

Skimmers can be incredibly difficult to detect, but knowing what to look for could increase your chances of avoiding a compromised terminal. Before inserting your card at an ATM or self-service payment terminals, such as those at gas station pumps, give it a thorough look-over, checking for signs someone may have made adjustments. If you notice the area around the card reader or PIN pad is a different color or material than the rest of the terminal, consider paying somewhere else. Whenever there are several terminals in a row, such as a row of ATMs at a bank, compare the one you’re using to the one next to it. If you spot any major differences, don’t use either system and alert the bank managers. If you have any doubts about a machine’s legitimacy, it’s always better to find an alternative way to pay if possible. What might be a few minutes of inconvenience could save you hours of time and money if your identity were to be compromised.

Although the above tips can help you identify shoddily-installed credit card skimmers, some are too well-hidden for even the most careful eye to detect. Therefore, it’s crucial you always make time to review your monthly bank and credit card statements, scanning each transaction to make sure it was properly authorized. Also, take advantage of the free credit reports you are entitled each year. Reviewing these documents can help you detect evidence of credit card fraud that may have originated from a transaction intercepted by a well-disguised skimmer.

Signing up with a credit monitoring service can help you stay on top of changes to your credit files even when you can’t check them yourself. Credit monitoring companies like Identity Guard keep a close eye on your credit files, alerting you if they detect certain activity that may indicate fraud. With us on your side, you can get a head start at minimizing the damage and reclaiming your identity. To get started, contact us today.