How to Avoid Credit Card Skim­mers

Not too long ago the city was shaken with news about for­eign­ers skim­ming at au­to­mated teller ma­chines (ATM) of cer­tain banks. It sent many de­pos­i­tors with ATM ac­counts into panic. Credit card hold­ers were alarmed, as well.

The Freeman - - FRONT PAGE - Section Art and Lay­out Ian E. Gallo Head Art Camil­lus L. Al­lego Jr.

Be­fore the ATM skim­ming in­ci­dent, there had al­ready been po­lice ar­rests of mem­bers of credit card syn­di­cates. The modus operandi of the crim­i­nals baf­fled or­di­nary credit card hold­ers. One vic­tim who rarely let his credit card off his sight won­dered how the bad guys gained ac­cess to his credit card in­for­ma­tion.

There are many ways to do it, in fact. One pos­si­bil­ity is that the crim­i­nals may have a con­duit in places where credit cards are of­ten used. It could be the waiter at the restau­rant or the cashier at the store who get one’s card info us­ing a de­vice called a credit card skim­mer.

A credit card skim­mer is a por­ta­ble cap­ture de­vice that is at­tached in front of or on top of the le­git­i­mate scan­ner. The skim­mer pas­sively records the card data when the credit card is in­serted into the real scan­ner.

Andy O'Don­nell, writ­ing at www., ob­serves that credit card thieves will of­ten tem­po­rar­ily af­fix the card skim­mer de­vice to gas pumps, ATMs, or other con­ve­nient self-ser­vice point-of-sale ter­mi­nals. The bad guys, he writes, like to do their trade at gas pumps and ATMs be­cause it’s easy to re­trieve their skim­mers from there and these points gen­er­ally re­ceive a lot of traf­fic.

Skim­mer tech­nol­ogy, O’Don­nell notes, has be­come cheaper and more so­phis­ti­cated over the past years. He ex­plains that “some skim­mers cap­ture the card in­for­ma­tion us­ing a mag­netic reader and use a minia­ture cam­era to record you typ­ing in your PIN num­ber. Some skim­mers will even go so far as to place a sec­ondary key­pad over the top of the ac­tual key­pad. The sec­ondary key­pad cap­tures your PIN num­ber and records it while pass­ing your in­put to the real key­pad.”

Now the ques­tion: Is there a way to keep safe from credit card skim­mers? O’Don­nell says it is pos­si­ble to greatly min­i­mize, if not to­tally elim­i­nate, the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing vic­tim­ized. He sug­gests cer­tain pre­cau­tions to be taken:

In­spect the card reader and the area near the PIN pad. Many banks and mer­chants re­al­ize that skim­ming is on the rise and will of­ten post a pic­ture of what the real de­vice is sup­posed to look like so clients will see if there is some­thing at­tached that is not sup­posed to be there if If you think the scan­ning de­vice doesn't look like it matches the ma­chine's color and style, it might be a skim­mer.

Look at other nearby gas pumps or ATM card read­ers to see if they match the one you are us­ing. Un­less skim­mers are run­ning a large op­er­a­tion, they prob­a­bly are only skim­ming at one gas pump at a time at the sta­tion you are us­ing. Look at the pump next to yours to see if the card reader and setup look dif­fer­ent. If they do, then you might have just spot­ted a skim­mer.

Trust your in­stincts. If in doubt, use an­other pump or ATM some­where else. The hu­man brain is ex­cel­lent at rec­og­niz­ing things that seem out of place. If you get a sense that some­thing looks off about the ATM you are about to use, you might be bet­ter off us­ing one that you feel more com­fort­able with.

Avoid us­ing your PIN num­ber at the gas pump. When you pay at the pump with your debit or credit card, you usu­ally have the op­tion to use it as a credit or a debit card. It's best to choose the credit op­tion that al­lows you to avoid en­ter­ing your PIN in sight of a card skim­mer cam­era. Even if there is not a card skim­mer cam­era in sight, some­one could be watch­ing you en­ter your PIN and could sub­se­quently mug you and take your card to the near­est ATM to with­draw some cash.

Keep an eye on your ac­counts. If you sus­pect that you might have had your card skimmed. Keep an eye on your ac­count bal­ance and re­port any sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­ity im­me­di­ately.


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