Another fairly easy and low-risk scam for would be criminals is the credit card skimmer. There’s a good chance you or someone you know has been victimized by this.
It’s really simple. Take a credit card skimmer and attach it to the credit card reader on a gas pump, or an ATM, or even the reader inside a retail store. Then wait for the skimmer to do its job.
By the time anyone realizes there is a card skimmer attached to the credit card reader the scammer probably has multiple credit card numbers at his disposal.
The reason this is so low risk is the card readers are easy to install, and the people getting the card info don’t usually use it. They usually sell the info online.
Often your stolen credit card information is not used for months. I had a conversation with a fraud specialist at a large bank about this very topic. They told me that more often than not the credit card numbers are sold on the dark web. A new credit card is created with the information and the new card is used wherever in the world the purchaser of your credit card number is.
To prevent detection they often wait a while before selling and/or using the stolen credit card numbers.
There are ways to protect yourself from being skimmed.
4 WAYS TO NOT GET SCAMMED BY THE SKIMMER
It happened to me once. It was over 5 years ago. My bank called me on a Monday morning while I was at work and asked if I was in France.
Needless to say, I was not. Someone had made repeated attempts (some successful) to use my card in France. Fortunately for me, the bank refunded all the money.
1. Use 24 Hour Gas Stations
There’s really no way to avoid having to get gas for your car unless you’re fortunate enough to own an electric car.
That means there is no way to 100% prevent from being skimmed if you plan to use your debit or credit card.
You could, of course, use cash. Realistically most of us do not carry cash around anymore.
I have found that using gas stations that are well lit and open 24 hours decreases the chances that I will get skimmed.
Avoid gas stations that do not have security cameras. I also avoid gas stations that look run down or are not part of a large chain.
The process of installing a skimmer is pretty quick so it can happen within a matter of minutes but criminals are less likely to try this somewhere that is well lit and constantly being monitored.
A gas station with lots of foot traffic also decreases the opportunities a card skimmer will be installed.
The gas station I usually use is open 24 hours, always well lit and always very busy.
It helps that they also have some of the lowest gas prices in my area.
Some gas stations have started to add a security sticker to gas pumps. The sticker covers the panel where the card reader is installed. This is actually very easy to circumvent with a box cutter and some creativity.
2. Avoid Stand Alone ATMs Like the Plague
You have all seen the ATM standing there on the side of a building, outside, with nothing else around it.
This is a big no-no. First of all, you’re probably going to get charged somewhere between $3 and $5 to use this ATM.
Even more importantly there is a good chance that this ATM has a card skimmer attached to it.
I almost never use a stand-alone ATM. If I do it’s going to be inside a business where a real person is within eyesight of it.
For the most part, I go to my bank’s ATM. Almost all of them are inside the bank and require your ATM card to get in.
There are always cameras on the ATM at the bank, and it always well lit.
Again, I cannot stress this enough. Cameras and well-lit areas discourage criminal activity, but they don’t prevent it 100%.
If you can withdraw money while the bank is open this is an even better option.
Here’s another option that I use sometimes because it’s a great way to avoid ATM fees. Go to a pharmacy or grocery store and make a small purchase like a pack of gum or a bottle of water. You can then ask for cash back when you purchase the item.
A chain like Walgreens or CVS is not going to have card skimmers installed at their cash registers. This is a great segway to my next point.
3. Be Very Diligent at Mom & Pop Shops
I love to shop locally. I believe local businesses should get all the support possible. If I have to choose between Walmart and a local mom and pop store I am going local every time.
The problem is the local stores don’t have the level of security and knowledge that a large chain has.
If the card reader is not in the direct line of sight of the cashier then I would use cash. Card skimmers are crafty at distracting cashiers and store clerks while a partner installs the skimmer.
The one time I was the victim of a skimmer it was determined that the skimmer was installed on the card reader at the cash register at a bodega in New York.
Be very careful when using the card reader at a local store, especially one you are not familiar with. If you can use cash or a check this is better.
Of course, checks come with another set of problems that I won’t even get into.
4. Bonus Suggestion
A lot of people don’t know this but your debit card can also be used as a credit card. If you have ever used your debit card and asked if you want to use it as a US Debit or a Visa Card then the establishment you are at allows this.
Selecting Visa means you are using it as a credit card, and you will not be asked to enter your pin.
Most of the time a signature and a photo ID are not required either.
This makes it easier for anyone with your card or card information to use it. Without being asked for a pin or ID it becomes very easy to make purchases without your knowledge.
Turn this feature off. You can ask your bank to set it up so that your debit card cannot be used as a credit card. I would encourage you to do just that.
I hope this helps you avoid being skimmed. It is an unfortunate crime that can cause a lot of heartache. Using these 4 steps will help decrease the likelihood you become a victim of credit card skimming.