Understanding Credit Card Skimming

What Is a Credit Card Skimmer?

Skimming refers to the criminal practice of scanning credit cards and stealing the card number. Hackers place card readers in everyday locations and arrange them so users easily mistake them for authentic readers or scan credit cards with handheld devices that can be easily concealed. Once criminals obtain credit card information, they can either use the information to create counterfeit credit cards or sell the information to third parties.

Skimming devices and tactics

Skimmers employ a few tried-and-true methods to entrap consumers and extract their information. The most common form of skimmer fraud consists of attaching a phony card reading device to ATMs and gas pumps. In many cases, consumers don’t distinguish the skimmer from the ATMs or card reader operating system, meaning they enter their card into what they believe is the machine. Once the card has been entered, its information is read for the hacker to eventually retrieve.1

In other cases, fraudsters will find jobs in bars and restaurants, for example, so they can obtain access to customer credit cards. In these scenarios, criminals will take a credit card that a customer has given them, and, before running it through an establishment’s point-of-sale system, they will run the card through their own device to obtain the information. These skimmers are usually handheld or attached to a cellphone and very easy to conceal. Likewise, hackers have developed apps that can read a credit card’s primary information simply by holding the smartphone over the card.2

Avoiding card skimmers

Consumers should understand the risks and prevalence of credit card skimmers today and treat known skimmer locations with care. Skimmers primarily target ATMs and gas station pumps. When using these devices, you should carefully observe that the machine’s equipment appears as it should be—that is, no additional card readers or cameras.

If you see what appears to be an additional card reader, or a device that appears incompatible with the rest of the machine, proceed cautiously. If you’re suspicious about a card reading device, give it a tug. These devices are usually loosely attached with tape or simple adhesive, so they will probably detach under minimal force.3

Reporting a skimmer

If you suspect you’ve found a skimming device, contact your local police. If possible, also inform the business in question, or ask the police to do so.

Finally, if you believe you’ve been a victim of skimming fraud, notify both the police and your bank as soon as possible. Once you’ve notified your bank, they can prevent further fraud. Additionally, laws exist that can help you recover funds used for fraudulent purchases if you report it quickly.

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