Avoiding Skimmers

ATM-skimming-skimmersThere has been a lot of talk and concern about “skimmers” recently and I was really not all that familiar with these things that sound like something our of a B science fiction movie so I did a little research.

The ones most people are concerned with are ATM and Gas Pump skimmers. These are miniature devices that stealthily help fraudsters capture your credit and debit card data and they are getting smaller and harder to detect everyday. Skimmers have always been designed to blend in with any ATM they are attached to. For years a discerning eye or tug of the card reader were often enough to uncover them. Sadly that is not the case anymore. Krebs on Security has been researching a number of devices recovered in Europe this year, and several of them were small enough to actually fit inside the ATM card slot itself. The ultra-thin profile of these “insert skimmers” makes them far less obvious to the average person using the ATM.

A closeup of the ATM card skimmer removed from the face of the ATM. (Courtesy Krebs on Security)

A closeup of the ATM card skimmer removed from the face of the ATM. (Courtesy Krebs on Security)

To make this worse apparently thieves very often pair these “skimmers” with hidden cameras that are also difficult to spot. Because of this many victims never realize their banking data has been compromised until fraudulent charges begin showing up.

Other modern skimmers include mobile chips capable of sending off your credit card data in a text message, so the criminal can avoid the risk of returning to the host ATM and picking up his nasty little device.

Why is This Happening?

The US is the last major market in the world using the signature system, which is part of the reason why a disproportionate amount of credit card fraud happens here. The good news is that there is hope that US banks and merchants may finally shift to a more secure way of authorizing credit card transactions in which customers will enter a personal identification number (PIN) at checkout instead of signing a receipt. This newer credit card security system will also help to reduce the success of these evil skimmers.

However this change will not happen all at once. Banks must issue cards with microprocessors and merchants need the right equipment to process the “chip and PIN transactions,” which will probably happen gradually. Additionally, the new equipment also processes “chip and signature” transactions, which are less secure but more convenient. So far, many banks have opted to issue chip and signature cards rather than chip and PIN cards.


Tips To Avoiding Skimmers

1. Look around the ATM vestibule for places where a tiny camera could be hiding, such as a brochure rack.

2. Take a close look at the keypad. Try to see if there is a fake overlay on top of it. Maybe the keypad looks thicker than usual. You probably won’t be able to detect the really top-notch PIN-pad overlays, but it doesn’t hurt to check.

3. Look over the entire ATM for parts that don’t match in styling, color or material. Skimmer thieves sometimes place a fascia (a large form-fitting mold) over the business area of the original ATM. The fascia will contain the skimmer and camera.

4. Try to jiggle the card reader. If it moves, so should you — to another ATM.

5. Cover your hands when you enter your PIN. It’s one of the easiest and most effective ways to protect yourself from an ATM skimmer’s hidden camera.

6. Try to only use ATM machines in well lit, populated and busy areas.

I hope some of this information helps you better understand what “skimmers” are and more importantly how to avoid them.

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