Skimmer Scams - Let the ATM user Beware! How to Protect Your Card

You may have heard about the Midlands area Father's Day weekend skimmer scam where skimmers were found on three separate ATMs in Richland County. Its a little frightening to know that someone can so easily get my (and your) credit card information and steal my (and your) hard-earned money by stealing our credit card information

And stealing our credit card number is as simple as plugging in a magnetic stripe reader (purchased on-line) into a computer (most of us have one) and opening a word processor (one usually comes free with the computer). When our credit card is swiped the card data is "typed" into the word processor; viola, the thief has our credit card number.

As in the case of the Father's Day weekend skimmer scam a more advanced device was used to steal the credit card information. It was installed by the would-be thieves directly on to the ATMs at three area financial institutions. Please note: They can be installed on most credit card readers so they are not limited to ATM applications. Skimmers have been found on Wal-Mart self-check out lanes and in Safeway stores.

Skimmers are usually installed between Fridays after the bank closes and Sundays, and are used even more over busy holidays when ATM usage is greatest. The criminals will remove the skimmers before the banks reopen on the next business day to avoid detection. If possible, always use your EMV chip for ATM transactions. It is possible to steal your data from the EMV chip but its much more difficult and most thieves are looking for the easiest targets and methods.

What is a skimmer anyway?

A skimmer is an insidious device that collects the data off the credit card's magnetic strip. They collect data from everyone who swipes their cards. Some skimmers won't stop the card reader from functioning correctly so they can be somewhat difficult to detect.

Typically, an ATM skimmer is smaller than a deck of cards. It fits directly over the card reader. But that's not all thieves are planting on the ATM. They may also place a hidden camera with line-of-sight to the key pad. B-I-N-G-O! Now the thief has our card number and our PIN (Personal Identification Number). A more sophisticated method of stealing our PIN is through the use of a fake PIN pad which is mounted directly over the ATM PIN pad. No need for a camera with this method.

Or, what about the deep-insert skimmers? These are different from a typical insert skimmer. The deep-insert skimmers are placed within the card reader and completely hidden from the user at the front of the ATM. It is unlikely that current anti-jamming or detection devices will work against the deep-insert skimmer.

NCR is responding to the deep-insert skimmer by modifying the card reader firmware which is designed to detect the insertion of the device and send an alert. This firmware modification is in field trials and, once the field trials are completed, will be released to owners of NCR card readers. Other card reader manufacturers may have a different approach to combating this problem. NCR's solution is showcased merely to illuminate the scope of the problem.

Skimming is lucrative so its not likely that crooks will stop doing it. Even with banks switching to EMV chip cards it won't end the problem so long as your card has the magnetic stripe. That stripe will be there for a while yet as many retailers aren't able to handle the chip.

What should you do to protect yourself?

Check for signs of tampering

Sometimes its just obvious! Check any pictures or raised areas near the PIN pad or card reader. If they look too close to the pad or reader it may be a skimming device or PIN pad reader. Are the colors consistent between the card reader/PIN pad with the rest of the machine. Do the graphics align correctly. If another ATM or card reader is nearby compare them. For instance, if one reader has a flashing light to indicate where the card should be inserted and the other doesn't you are probably looking at a skimmer. If the PIN pad seems to thick, again, its probably a PIN-snatching overlay. DON'T USE THEM!

Wiggle & Jiggle

Push, pull, wiggle and jiggle everything to determine if the ATM/Card Reader is solidly constructed or if there are loose parts! Everything should be secure and solid. If not, walk away. Also, wiggle your card as you insert it into the Card Reader. Skimmers need the card to go into the reader in a single, smooth motion in order to read it accurately. If it doesn't enter the skimmer the right way it can't read the data correctly. So wiggle away!

Make your "steps" invisible to an observer

Hide your fingers as you enter your PIN so an observer or camera won't know what you are entering. Obtaining the PIN is vitally important to the thief's plan. They can't use the magstripe data without it. If the crook is using a PIN-snatching overlay hiding your keypad entries won't work!

Be aware of your surroundings! Busy locations are difficult for crooks to install skimmers. So, always look for ATMs in busy locations. The ATMs inside a grocery store or restaurant are safer than street ATMs.

My data was stolen!

IMMEDIATELY report the theft to the card issuer or bank. Individuals typically are not responsible for more than $50 in losses. Businesses aren't as lucky and may spend months trying to get their money back. Timely reporting is the key! To help you stay on top of your accounts check them on-line frequently and set-up alerts so you will know when transfers are made. Stay close to your phone! You may get a call or text message alerting you to suspicious activity!

And remember to use your credit card or select the credit card option when using your debit card. A debit transaction is an immediate transfer of cash and an FDIC claim may take weeks to process. A credit card transaction can be stopped and reversed at any time. A bonus of using credit cards is that it puts pressure on retailers and restaurants to secure their ATMs and point-of-sale terminals.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

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