School’s out, vacation time is confirmed and your trip is booked. Unfortunately, fraudsters and identity thieves share your excitement. Summer tends to be a busy time for these criminals, who gear up for lost debit cards, more credit card charges and sporadic reviews of recent transactions by consumers.
One of the fastest-growing scams to hit vacationers are credit card skimmers. What is a skimmer? It’s a device that is hooked up to ATMs and gas pumps, and made to look like legitimate equipment. Once installed, credit card skimmers record credit and debit card numbers as well as PINs. The thieves then either gather the information remotely or come back to collect the devices with all the numbers stored on them.
Either way, the transactions still go through normally. So you can still get cash or check your balance at an ATM or fill up at a gas pump without realizing that the credit card skimmer is stealing your information.
The risk of skimming is increasing, according to security experts. Even one person skilled in skimming can cause significant damage. For example, The San Diego Union-Tribune recently noted that a skimming suspect placed devices throughout a countywide area and managed to loot nearly a half-million dollars from bank accounts before getting caught.
Global security expert Brian Krebs wrote that skimming attacks have increased at an alarming rate in the past year, in both the United States and Europe. From 2014 to 2015, ATM skimming alone rose by 546 percent. Furthermore, the Vice President of Fraud Solutions at FICO pointed out in a report that criminals are moving faster and making it harder for banks to shut down the compromised machines.
Stopping the Credit Card Skimmers
Unfortunately, the clunky skimmers that were once in place — sporting mismatched buttons, seams of dried glue and off-kilter swipe strips — have been replaced by devices that look remarkably like the real thing. Even worse, they’re cheap and plentiful. One news report noted that fraudsters can buy credit card skimmers on eBay for less than $100.
While it can be challenging to spot a skimmer today, there are a few protective steps you can take:
- Use an ATM inside a bank if possible. Outdoor ATMs are more susceptible to skimming, since criminals have better access and can install skimmers more surreptitiously.
- Safeguard your PIN. Some credit card skimmers use cameras pointed toward the keypad. Covering your hand as you punch your code can help shut down some skimming.
- Check your gut. If something doesn’t feel right about a device, don’t use it.
- Whenever possible, use cash instead of a card, so that you have fewer credit or debit transactions. (If you are victimized, this also makes it easier to determine where a skimming incident may have occurred.)
One of the top ways to thwart fraud and subsequent identity theft is through credit and bank monitoring, especially with a service like IdentityForce that issues alerts if any suspicious activity occurs. With threats like credit card skimming becoming more difficult to detect, it’s more important than ever to step up protection with 24/7 vigilance.