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Protect Your Credit Card from Being Skimmed

April 6, 2017

Like most cardholders, perhaps you think that as long as your card is not lost or stolen, you are safe from the clutches of criminals. However, you could not be further from the truth.

Even when your card is in your possession, you may find that thieves have conducted fraudulent transactions to siphon away money from your account. But how did they manage to pull off something like this?

Often they use a method called credit card skimming to obtain your card information while you are conducting an otherwise legitimate credit or debit card transaction.

Credit card skimming is a process through which small devices, called skimmers, are used to scan and store data from a card’s magnetic strip. Thieves use this data to conduct fraudulent transactions online, or via fake credit cards. In fact, these details may even be sold to other crooks over the Internet!

The typical skimming device is smaller than the palm of your hand and can be easily fitted over an existing card reader. Often, attackers use hidden cameras to record Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) typed out on the number pad. Else, they simply install a fake keyboard over a real one to capture the information, thereby negating the need for a camera altogether.

Skimming occurs most frequently at retail outlets that accept credit card payments, such as bars, gas stations, restaurants and ATMs. Sometimes retail and restaurant workers who handle credit cards may also be recruited to be part of skimming rings. These employees use handheld devices to surreptitiously skim credit cards when they are handed to them for normal transactions.

Victims of fraud often remain ignorant of the theft until they receive overdraft notices or billing statements in the mail.

So what can you do to avoid credit card skimming?

Perhaps the best way in which you can avoid being skimmed is by staying vigilant. Monitor your credit card accounts weekly and report any suspicious activity right away.

Additionally, always keep your credit card in sight and ensure that you never let anyone walk away with it. If you feel that the waiter or cashier may leave your presence with the card, offer to pay by cash instead.  

You could also run an online search for images of credit card skimmers – this can help you recognize one if you see it. Since thieves often place such devices at ATMs, make sure you cover your hand as you type into the keyboard to prevent your PIN from being stolen. Moreover, if the keys feel hard to push, retrieve your card immediately and use another machine.

For those terminals that accept NFC payments, a good move would be to use Apple Pay, Android Pay or Samsung Pay instead. These services will tokenize your card information, so even if a thief intercepts it, he’ll only get a useless virtual credit card number.

Finally, don’t believe crooks who offer to clean the magnetic strip on your credit card; they will simply insert your card in a skimmer and take away your information.

How to Deal with Skimming

Despite all your precautions, if you realize that your card data has been stolen, the first thing that you should do is call the police.

Then, immediately call your bank or credit card issuer to report the theft. If you do so quickly, your liability for unauthorized charges will be capped at $50; in many cases, the institution may do away with the charges altogether.

Contact all three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, to request a security freeze on your account. This will force businesses to confirm your identity before approving new credit applications in your name.

Finally, consider informing the Federal Trade Commission, as your complaint may help them to break up large skimming rings.

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Ari Page Ari Page is the CEO of Fund&Grow. He resides in Spring Hill, Florida with his wife and two children.

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