How to spot a skimmer and avoid identity theft

Thursday, October 24, 2019
Tips to spot a credit card skimmer
Learn what to look for to avoid the devices that want to steal your personal information

While there's no perfect way to protect yourself from crooks targeting your credit card information, you can take steps to be aware of potential threats.

Skimming devices are used by criminals to secretly capture credit and debit card data from unsuspecting users. Once the credit/ debit data is captured, the data is downloaded and then used for fraudulent transactions. The data can be sold, immediately used for online purchases or re-encoding and creation of counterfeit credit/debit cards.

Typically, there are three different forms of skimming devices:

Portable, hand held devices where the suspect must have the device and swipe the victim's card. These devices are typically used at a point of sale transaction such as restaurants or fast food.

Portable hand held skimmer
Houston Police Department

Skimming devices attached to ATM machines. These devices are more sophisticated. ATM skimming devices are typically paired with a pinhole camera that captures the victim's ATM card pin number.

Gas pumps skimming devices
. Like ATM skimming devices, gas pump skimmers are more sophisticated, and require installation. Some of these devices are extremely sophisticated and may even use power from the gas pump. In some devices, captured credit card data is transmitted via bluetooth-type technology to suspects so they don't even need to return to the device.

Preventing Credit/Debit Compromises

There is no fail safe way to completely prevent the compromise of credit/debit card data from skimming devices. It is extremely important that consumers closely monitor their credit and debit accounts. However, there are steps that people can take when it comes to skimming devices.

In regard to hand held skimming devices, it is important to if possible keep your credit/debit card within your sight and ensure that it is not swiped through two different point of sale devices for the same transaction. Many fast food and retailers now have their point of sale debit/credit machines in view where the customer can see the transaction.

When it comes to ATM and gas pump skimming devices, consumers should look for:

-Any loose, broken, chipped, or otherwise damaged parts or items on or near the credit card reading device on the machine.

-Any exposed wires, cords or electrical items on or near the credit card reading device on the machine.

-For gas pumps, often times retailers place a piece of tape on the pump that will indicate if the pump has been opened or tampered without authorization. If this seal or tape appears damaged, broken or manipulated, the device should be avoided.

-For both ATM and gas station skimming devices, be on the lookout for any items that do not appear to be a regular part of a typical machine. Often victims will say they knew or thought something wasn't quite right with the transaction.

-Additionally, citizens using an ATM can pull on the credit card insert overlay before using. Usually if there is a skimmer inside the overlay the whole overlay will come off since it's only put on with 2 sided tape or glue.

Houston Police Department

Source: Houston Police Department