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Crooks can steal your credit or debit card number anywhere you swipe your card. A simple gadget called a skimmer can let bad guys steal numbers from hundreds of people without the card owners even knowing it.
A skimmer is a device placed over a card reader. When you swipe your card, it reads the numbers but lets you complete the transaction normally. Some skimmers collect data for criminals to pick up later, while others transmit it to the bad guys via Bluetooth or a wireless phone call.
The Northport, Ala., Police Department sent out a Tweet Jan. 13 with a short video of a skimmer and the warning, “Always tug on the credit card reader at the gas pumps, you never know when someone has slipped a reader on there.”
Crooks can steal your credit or debit card numbers at:
- Gas pumps. This is the most common location for skimming, because people are often in a hurry to fill the tank. The Minnesota Commerce Commission found nine skimmers on pumps in the Minneapolis area during a sweep in April 2016, the local CBS affiliate reported.
- Skimmers have been found on regular and self-service checkout lines at several supermarkets, including Safeway. The Consumerist reported that one looked like a normal card reader and even stole pin numbers. Skimmers also were found at the self-checkout lanes at Walmart stores in Virginia and Kentucky in April 2016, security expert Brian Krebs reported.
- Train stations. In November 2014, police found skimmers on ticket machines at three Denver-area light rail stations.
- Skimmers have been popping up on ATMs for several years now, Krebbs reported. Crooks also place false pin readers on ATMs to steal your data.
How To Spot A Skimmer
Here are some tips for spotting a skimmer and protecting your accounts:
- Grab the card reader, pull it hard and jiggle it around. If it is loose, it might be a skimmer, the Northport, Ala., Police Department said. Always tug on readers at gas pumps and ticket machines.
- Look for hidden cameras and cover the hand that is entering data. Thieves sometimes place cameras in discrete locations to steal PIN numbers. Any pinhole or clear area near the PIN reader might contain one.
- Look for signs of damage to the machine. This might include a recently drilled hole or spray paint.
- If you have a chip card, use the chip reader when available. It is more secure.
- Check your account balance regularly, online. Report any suspicious activity immediately.
- Call the police if you think you have found a skimmer.
- Use other methods of payment, such as cash or phone payment apps like Apple Pay and Walmart Pay. Payment apps can be more secure than cards.
Thieves want your credit and debit card numbers — and they’ll do anything to get them.
Have you ever spotted a skimmer or had someone steal your credit card data? Share your advice in the section below: