Card Skimmers 101
What is a card skimmer?
A skimmer is a device employed by a fraudster that is designed to steal a victim’s plastic card information. That information is then used to produce a counterfeit card that can be used to defraud you. Skimmers are still commonly used and are responsible for more than a billion dollars in fraud per year. Skimmers can take many forms and have become astonishingly sophisticated in recent years.
Here are some examples:
This skimmer was placed over the card reader. A red flag for this particular image would be the light gray area around the card reader.
Before you use an ATM check to see if there are areas around the keyboard or card reader that are a different material or color.
This skimmer was poorly placed around the card reader. You can see the damaged portions of the material that was cut.
Check for tampering of the machine and signs of damage. These would be red flags to not use that ATM.
The small red circle at the top left is highlighting a pinhole camera. This camera was inserted into a hole made in the material surrounding the ATM.
The card reader on this ATM was also tampered with. The color of the reader doesn’t necessarily match the other hardware on the machine. This is important to note about the keypad as well. The entire platform doesn’t match the ATM. This would be a red flag.
It is important to be aware of your surroundings before using an ATM. Ask yourself a few questions. Is this a particular ATM you have used before? Does the shape of the card reader look different? Are there any strange holes above the keypad? Does the keypad match the rest of the ATM?
Check for weird colors, seams, and shapes that don’t match anything else. Skimmers can be found anywhere cards are swiped… Gas pumps, retail point-of-sale terminals, fake ATMs, and there are even handheld skimmers.
Some skimmers use Bluetooth technology. A potential way to determine this is to take a cell phone with you and turn on Bluetooth next to the ATM. If there is a Bluetooth-enabled skimmer it will show up in the search for devices. This could show as a long string of data or the device could be named. It’s unlikely that there will be a legitimate Bluetooth device in range of the ATM, so anything that shows up could be a red flag. Do not click on a device to pair.
Won’t chip-based cards solve this problem?
The short answer is no. Skimmers work by reading the magnetic stripe on your cards, and those stripes aren’t going anywhere soon. The magnetic stripe is still there for backward compatibility purposes. Until every merchant, ATM, gas pump, and point-of-sale device are chip compatible, we need the stripe.
Worse yet, fraudsters have already come up with an answer to the chip as well. “Shimmers” are able to intercept information passing between the ATM or point-of-sale device and the chip on your card. You can bet as magnetic stripes begin to disappear, we’ll see more instances of shimmers. These new devices are very, very thin and designed to be inserted into the card reader.
Look for pinhole cameras designed to capture the PIN as it is entered. Shimmer devices are very hard to spot, but they are often accompanied by a camera that is easily noticed if you take a minute to look.
How do I spot a skimmer?
- Look for signs of tampering. Is the keyboard too thick? Is there signage (or lights, etc.) that is partially obstructed by the keyboard or card reader?
- Are there areas around the keyboard or card reader that are a different material or color?
- Look for pinhole cameras designed to capture the PIN as it is entered. Shimmer devices are very hard to spot, but they are often accompanied by a camera that is easily noticed if you take a minute to look.
- Don’t be afraid to grab or wiggle things on an ATM or gas pump before you use it, particularly the keyboard and card reader. If they look loose or like they could easily be pried off, they are probably fake.
How do avoid this kind of fraud?
- Always carefully inspect the gas pump or ATM before using it. If there are multiple devices, look for differences between them.
- Don’t let your card leave your sight if you can help it. Any time someone takes your card out of your sight, you are at risk of being skimmed.
- Minimize ATM use. If you need cash and would like an extra layer of protection, visit a nearby branch. Our Member Service Advocates are happy to assist you with withdrawing money from your account.
- Avoid using sketchy-looking, hidden, or poorly lit ATMs all together.
- Cover the keypad with your other hand when entering your PIN.
- Shimmers often make the card insert less smoothly. If you insert your card into a machine and it feels rough or too tight, cancel the transaction and remove your card.
- Use Mobile Banking or Online Banking to monitor your account closely and report suspicious transactions to us as soon as possible.