How to Spot & Avoid a Credit Card Skimmer
What is a credit card skimmer?
A credit card skimmer is a type of theft device used to steal credit card information. When you swipe it as you would for a credit or debit card transaction, the information stored in the magnetic strip is collected. The information that’s stolen includes your card number, expiration date, and your full name. Thieves will use this stolen information to make fraudulent charges, such as online purchases. The skimmer goes right on top of the real card-swiping mechanism that’s found on ATMs and gas station pumps. Some skimmers even have a hidden camera to see what your PIN number is.
How to spot credit card skimmers
As you would think, credit card skimmers look just like the real machines so that they blend in seamlessly once it’s placed on top. The most common places where these are placed are at ATMs and gas station pumps, but they could be used anywhere you swipe your card. Since you’re on this website, we’re going to use the example of a card machine reader on a gas pump or dispenser.
- If you look at a card machine on a dispenser from the side, you shouldn’t see any part of the reader protrude outside the rest of the machine.
- If you’re suspicious and unsure of the card reader at your gas pump, you can compare it to the rest of the readers at nearby pumps. However, you still should pay inside or go to another gas station instead.
- If you can move or jiggle the card reader or even parts of the card reader, then it could be a skimming device. Legit card readers are securely placed and shouldn’t have been tampered with.
Tips to avoid credit card skimmers
Honestly, the best way to avoid credit card skimmers is to avoid using your credit card or debit card altogether. It makes sense, doesn’t it? If you don’t use them, your card can’t get skimmed and there’s no risk for fraudulent transactions.
1. Use Cash Instead
Did you know that gas is cheaper when you pay with cash? Yup. Gas stations will offer a cash discount. Most of the time, the price you see on the sign is the price you get if you pay with cash. A lot of consumers who use cards are befuddled on how they ended up paying more at the pump than the sign says. If you pay with cash, you get the 5- or 10-cent discount per gallon. It doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up over time!
2. Use a Skimmer Locator App
There are apps for your phone to help you locate skimmers, such as Card Skimmer Locator or Skim Plus. These apps use Bluetooth to detect skimmers. One creator of a Bluetooth skimming technology explains, ““If found, the app will attempt to connect using the default password of 1234. Once connected, the letter ‘P’ will be sent. If a response of ‘M’ then there is a very high likelihood there is a skimmer in the Bluetooth range of your phone (5 to 15 feet).”
3. Check the Card Reader
If you absolutely have to use a credit card or debit card, you should look at the reader before you insert your card. Not only should you look at the actual magnetic reader, but you should also look at the keyboard. Thieves can now use a 3-D printer to make a keyboard to put on top of the real one. If something looks odd, like the keys look bigger (or maybe they’re harder to press), then the reader alongside it could be a skimmer. And like we mentioned earlier, if any part of the reader looks like it’s protruding out from the other parts, then it could be a skimmer as well.