Debit/Credit Card Skimming

Debit/Credit Card Skimming


Skimming refers to one of the ways in which thieves are causing billions of dollars in losses to consumers in the recent years by illegally obtaining cardholders’ data. A small device is utilized to collect (skim) debit/credit card information while a person performs a routine transaction at an ATM, gas pump or other vendors such as restaurants and convenient stores.


The small device is installed on an ATM or other card device such as gas pump, when a person performs a transaction, all the information contained on the magnetic strip of the card are collected and stored within the device. At a later time the criminal will collect the device and access the card numbers stored within. Some devices also include a keyboard overlay to steal the PIN as its being keyed in by the cardholder; or a small camera pointed at the keyboard is utilized to record the PIN.

Skimming can also at times involve a “bad” store clerk or attendant; when the cardholder hands his/her card to the employee and he/she walks away with the card to process the payment, the employee could swipe the card through a small reader they carry and retain the card data for later extraction.


  • Choose the terminal location wisely: when possible, select a terminal that is in a trafficked and well lit area, for example, when at the pump, use one closer to the cashier’s window or front entrance of the store as it will be less likely to be chosen by a criminal. ATMs inside a store are usually safer than those on an outer wall of a building.
  • Check the terminal : check the terminal for any potential tampering activities, such as a broken seals, scratches, etc. If multiple terminals are available, such as in the case of a gas pump, compare the terminal you selected with the others. Check for items that seem loose or aren’t aligning correctly.
  • Give it a tug: wiggle and/or tug the card reader section of the terminal. Terminals are built to be sturdy and will not move when a wiggle or tug is applied. Also, when using the terminal, if the keypad doesn’t feel right, hard to press or “too thick”, this may be a sign that an overlay has been applied to the keypad to capture your PIN.
  • When in doubt: report the terminal to a store clerk or financial instution representative (in case of an ATM) or if no one is available, inform the police. If a skimming device is recovered by the police, it can help determine the owner of the device and catch the criminals associated.
  • Look over your shoulder: when performing a transaction be constantly aware of your surroundings, see if anyone is over your shoulder (even if at some distance) and check for cameras. It is best to cover the keypad with your hand as you enter your PIN.
  • Stay with your card: Make sure your card stays in sight at all times. Do not let anyone leave your presence while they have your card; ask the employee permission to meet him/her at the cashier’s station or other location in which the payment will be taken and witness the transaction as it is performed. This will minimize the chance of a bad employee skimming your card data; if this is not allowed, consider utilizing cash.
  • ATM machines are at higher risk during the weekend and holidays: criminals will install skimmers after working hours on Friday and recover them early Monday before the financial institution personnel reports to work.
  • Provide your financial institution and credit card provider with your cell#: most financial institution and credit card providers have a 24/7 fraud protection team at work. Due to the time sensitivity and security issues associated with these calls, the cardholder must answer to the call from the fraud department. A return call # is often not provided as there is no way for the fraud department to confirm the caller identity with certainty. If the call is not answered, as a preventive fraud measure, the card will likely be blocked until the cardholder can make contact with a representative during normal business hours.
  • Keep a close watch on your account activities and credit card statement: timing is essential when discovering fraud on your account. The sooner you can report fraud on your card, the sooner the dispute process can began and the least amount of fraudulent transactions will take place.


If you don’t recognize a charge, report it immediately to the institution that issued the card in question. The card issuer will immediately close that card and issue a new one to prevent any additional fraud. You will likely be asked to sign paperwork and/or report the instance to the police as this constitutes a case of identity theft; ask your financial institution to provide you an affidavit of fraud, the police usually requires this statement to open a case for you.

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