Whether you insert your card or swipe the magnetic strip on the back, criminals developed card skimming and shimming devices that can copy information from your card’s magnetic strip or chip.
Regardless of the device’s name, the basic premise of card skimming is always the same:
- A skimming/shimming device steals your card’s information. The device may be placed on top of a card reader or inserted inside the card reader slot. Some of these are very small and well hidden, and you might insert or swipe your card without ever realizing they’re inside. When you do, the device steals information from the card, such as your name, card number and card expiration date.
- A camera or keypad overlay steals your PIN. A hidden camera is installed near the keyboard, or a thin overlay is placed on top of the keypad. These can record the PIN or ZIP code that you enter.
The criminals who plant skimming devices may return to retrieve the stolen information or gather it using a wireless connection. They can then sell card numbers online or use them to create a card and withdraw cash from an ATM or make fraudulent purchases.
How to Avoid Card Skimming
You can look for card skimming devices whenever you use your card at an ATM, gas pump or sales terminal. However, you can’t rely on detection alone. Sometimes the card skimmers are inside the terminals.
Still, here are a few steps you can take to protect yourself and spot skimming/shimming devices.
- Use the safest payment method available. Tapping your contactless card can be safer than inserting or swiping your card. If that’s not an option, inserting the card’s chip is safer than swiping.
- Inspect the device and see if anything has been tampered with or looks different from other card readers at the counter. You could try pulling on the card reader or keypad to see if there is a skimming device that moves or comes off. Inspect the keypad to see if anything looks or feels strange. Even minor differences, such as odd colors or small holes, could indicate the presence of a card skimming/shimming device.
- Protect your PIN. Cover the pad when typing in your PIN. It’s not a fool-proof method because a keypad overlay could still record what you type, but covering your hand when you enter your PIN or ZIP code can keep cameras from recording what you type. An overlay is often used to record keystrokes and electronically capture you PIN. Look for something that can be easily lifted off the keypad.
- Monitor your accounts. Add alerts to your credit and debit cards—such as an email, text, or app notification—every time there’s a new transaction. The alerts can help you act quickly if someone uses your card’s info to make fraudulent purchases.