Skimming fraud is a crime that occurs when an illegal device, such as a fake card slot, is installed at card terminal such as an ATM or a gas pump. When a customer inserts a debit or credit card into the machine, this device “skims” account information from the card’s magnetic strip. According to the Wall Street Journal, criminals are stealing data from ATM machines at the highest rate in 20 years.
How skimming works
Skimming devices are designed to blend into the ATM or gas pump’s façade. The device is often a realistic-looking card reader placed over the real card reader, or an insert covering parts of the card reader. When a customer inserts a card into the device, the account information is swiped and recorded, or transmitted wirelessly to the criminals.
Skimming can also involve the use a hidden camera to record entry of personal identification numbers (PINs) onto the keypad. Another method involves attaching a fake keypad on top of the real keypad to record keystrokes as victims enter their PIN. A victim’s PIN may also be stolen by “shoulder surfing,” in which the criminal peeks over the shoulder of the victim. By skimming card numbers and stealing PINs through these methods, criminals gain access to their victims’ bank accounts.
Criminals usually install skimming devices for just a few hours. Then they use the stolen data to clone the victim’s ATM or debit card so they can make fraudulent purchases and withdrawals from the victim’s account.
What Can You Do?
- Consider the location: No ATM or gas pump is completely safe from skimming, but some locations are more vulnerable than others. ATMs at airports, hotel lobbies, convenience stores, and parking lots are often poorly monitored and therefore more vulnerable. Skimming fraud occurs in the U.S. and in foreign countries.
- Be observant: Before using an ATM or gas pump, inspect the machine and do not use it if there is any indication that a skimming device is, or was previously, attached to it. Check the card reader and the area near the PIN pad for anything loose, crooked, damaged, or scratched. Look for glue or tape residue that may have been used to attach a device. Before swiping your card, give a small tug on the card reader and check the insert section. If there is any movement or a device comes off, don’t use that machine. If a gas pump looks like it has been tampered with, do not use it. Report any suspicious circumstances immediately to the operator and your financial institution.
- Consider the time: Business hours are safest for ATM use, because of a higher level of activity around branches, businesses, and ATMs.
- Protect your PIN: Cover the keyboard with your free hand to block the view of a hidden camera or shoulder surfer. Protecting your PIN prevents criminals from accessing your account. Don’t carry your PIN with you or share it with others.
- Avoid old tech: If you’re using an older ATM or gas pump that requires you to insert your card, and your card isn’t returned, contact the machine’s owner and your financial institution immediately to report it. The device may be deliberately jammed by criminals in order to steal data from the card. Be wary of handwritten signs indicating an ATM or other machine is out of order and directing you to another machine, as this could be a ruse directing you to a compromised machine.
- Monitor your accounts: Check your account statement, or check your account online frequently for suspicious charges or withdrawals.
If you suspect you have used a compromised ATM, or that you are a victim of skimming or any other type of fraud, call the City National Bank phone number on the back of your ATM/debit card.