How to Protect Yourself from Credit Card Skimming

Credit card skimming is a type of credit card fraud where a small hardware device steals information from a card. This is done without the owner knowing, leading to illegal use of their card information. Credit card skimming is part of the $31-billion-dollar worth of credit card fraud expected to occur globally in 2020.


So how can you avoid becoming a victim of credit card skimming? Here we fill you in on:

  • How credit card skimmers work
  • How to detect one
  • How to avoid falling victim
  • And how to know if your card has been skimmed.

How do credit card skimmers work?

You first need to understand how skimmers work to realise the best ways to prevent your credit card from being skimmed. Credit card skimming happens when an illegal skimming device gains access to your credit card details. These devices can be hidden in ATM machines, gasoline pumps and even ticket vending machines.


Once skimmed, the card information is used online by the thieves themselves or sold to other criminals for financial gain. Sometimes your credit card information can be used to make counterfeit cards which are then sold on the black market.


Once cybercriminals have your credit card details, they  can even build an online identity around you. If they can also secure your home address, date of birth or other personal details, this online identity can be fully built out. Unfortunately, this can then lead to loans opened in your name, purchases made without your knowledge and significant financial loss.


Where could my card be skimmed?

1. ATMs


Skimming devices are regularly hidden here. You enter your card without realizing there is a tiny skimming device in the card slot. It then gathers information from the black magnetic strip on the back of your card and feeds it to criminal gangs.


2. Gasoline pumps


Gas pumps are also a hot spot for credit card skimming. In many cases, the skimming device is hidden in the card slot at the pump.


3. Ticket kiosks and machines


Such as those at metro stations or even airports.


4. Handheld card payment machines


Card skimming can even happen in restaurants and cafés.  Your card can be skimmed on a handheld skimming machine by a waiter or waitress when they take your card for payment. Criminal gangs will actually pay hospitality staff to do this.


Can a credit card with a chip be skimmed?

The answer is unfortunately yes, they can. Even though chips have drastically reduced credit card fraud by encrypting data, cards still contain valuable information in the magnetic strip on the back. So as long as we are still using technology allowing for cards without chips, skimming can happen. Unfortunately, chips can’t guarantee card cloning protection.

How do you detect a credit card skimmer?

There are a number of flags to alert you to credit card skimming.


1. ATM keypads

When you use a keypad at an ATM or ticket kiosk, notice the keypad. Does it feel the same as usual? Or is there anything strange about it? Often a keypad overlay will be used in tandem with a card skimming machine so criminals can also get your PIN number. This can be spotted if it rocks or feels thicker than the usual buttons or keypads.


2. Hidden cameras

When you stand at an outdoor ATM or ticket kiosk, always quickly check for a hidden camera in the frame of the ATM or above it. The gangs that insert skimming machines can also get your PIN number using a hidden video camera to record your finger movements. Call 911 and tell your bank if you see anything suspicious.


3. Broken security seals

With an increase in skimming at gasoline stations, many station owners are putting security seals on the body of the pump. If the seal is broken it means someone may have put a skimming machine inside. If you spot a seal is broken, then alert someone immediately and do not use the credit card facility.

How to prevent your credit card from being skimmed

It’s so important to know how to protect yourself from credit card skimming. Prevention is about understanding how skimming works and taking some simple steps to stop it. These steps outline how to avoid gas pump skimmers, ATM skimmers as well as other skimming/identity fraud risks.


1. Well-lit gas pumps and ATMs

Thieves need to insert skimming devices where they won’t be spotted by clerks or they can hide their cameras and devices. So try and avoid badly lit gasoline pumps or ATMs hidden from clerks wherever possible.


2. Pay inside

While sometimes inconvenient, paying inside reduces the risk of skimming at gasoline stations. It does take a little bit more time, but is a good way of ensuring your card isn’t attacked.


3. Keep your card in sight

While at restaurants or anywhere you need to hand your card to someone you don’t know, always keep your card in sight. You should always be able to see your card, no matter what anyone tells you.


4. Keep your PIN safe

It sounds obvious but we always need to remind ourselves to keep our PINs safe and avoid writing them down in plain sight. Never give them to someone you don’t know or trust.


5. Chip and Pin

More and more cards now have chips and these require a higher level of skill for skimmers to process. While they are not totally safe they do offer an added level of protection. We’d advise opting for these cards when you can.


6. Consider software security

Security software is another great way to protect yourself against skimming. Clario will alert you when your personal information is used and help you spot skimming fast.

How do I know if my credit card has been skimmed

These signs will alert you if your credit card has been skimmed.


Unauthorized transactions

Check your credit card and bank account statements regularly. If you see unusual transactions or suspicious activity this could be a sign your credit card details have been breached.


Calls from the bank

If  the bank spots suspicious activity in your account, they will put a temporary hold on your card and alert you. Always take these alerts seriously, even if they are for small amounts of money. Often criminals will run fraud amounts for as little as $1 to check if anyone spots it. And from there the amounts grow and grow.


Monthly limit breached

Consider putting a monthly limit on your credit card transactions. Of course, this clearly needs to work for your lifestyle. In doing this, if the limit is breached due to skimming, your financial exposure is greatly reduced.


Identity theft software

By using identity theft prevention software like Clario, you can automatically be alerted to the use of your personal information, thus minimizing any financial loss from skimming.


If you think you have been a victim of skimming, even if suspicious activity hasn’t appeared on your bank statements yet, do something about it. Call your credit card company and put a hold on your card immediately. The faster you act the less exposure you will have to financial loss. Plus, the faster you act the more hope there is of recovering stolen funds.


Also alert local authorities or federal authorities. Many of these skimming gangs operate at a national level and this information can be very helpful to law enforcement.


Clario’s expert team is a leader in online and identity fraud security. Find out more about how you can live a worry free digital life through Clario’s Identity Theft Protection.

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