Before you swipe your bank card or credit card to make a payment or complete a bank transaction, be alert for skimmer devices attached inside or over the real card reader. Criminals use skimmers to capture the information from the magnetic strip on credit or debit cards, gaining unauthorized access to consumer accounts.
Skimmers have become increasingly prevalent as they are easy to put in place. The skimmer device fits right over or inside the real card reader. When the card is swiped, it passes through the skimmer before going into the real reader. Skimmers have popped up at bank drive-through ATMs, gas stations and other businesses, especially in remote locations or places that are difficult to monitor.
There are a few things you can do to make sure your account information stays safe.
Look before you swipe
Look for signs of tampering or bulkiness of the card reader you are about to use. If it looks too thick, damaged, loose or just does not look right, report it to the bank or business and use a different machine. Consumers have even reported parts of skimmers coming off the ATM. The FBI offers additional tips and illustrations of what to look for. If you see someone tampering with or hanging around an ATM machine, report this information as soon as possible to law enforcement or the bank or related business hosting the machine. Sometimes criminals hang around machines to collect information via a Bluetooth connection or wait for an opportunity to add a skimmer or make changes to a machine.
Protect your chipped card
Many newer credit cards have radio frequency identification (RFID) chips. The chips use a wireless, electromagnetic field to transmit information across short distances. Criminals use small remote skimmers that can be concealed in a pocket to collect information from the RFID chip. With these skimmers, the card need not be physically swiped to compromise the information. The electronic pickpocket need only walk a few feet away from you to collect information from the chip.
To prevent information theft, use a card carrier with a lined casing to shield the signal from the card. The Massachusetts Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation put out a Consumer Alert describing additional measures you can take, such as stacking several RFID-equipped cards together.
What to do if you’re hacked
If you do fall victim to a skimmer or RFID scam, immediately report it to law enforcement, providing as many details as possible. Contact the security department of your bank or the retailer whose card was compromised. Close the account and put a fraud alert on your credit file. Find additional information to protect your accounts on our identity theft prevention site and from the Federal Trade Commission.