Earlier this week, SAPD arrested a man who they say was putting debit card skimmers on gas pumps.
Skimmers are not a new phenomenon, but they’re not going away either.
In fact, the problem continues to grow exponentially year after year.
According to the Fair Isaac Corporation — better known as FICO — debit card skimming grew at an unprecedented rate of 368% from 2021 to 2022. And the first half of 2023 trended even higher than last year.
What are skimmers?
Skimmers are devices that are illegally installed on ATMs, gas pumps and any other point-of-sale terminals to capture debit and credit card information and record PINs.
The FBI estimates skimming costs financial institutions and consumers more than $1 billion a year.
What do skimmers look like?
So how can you avoid having your credit or debit card information stolen? Can you spot a skimmer?
Some skimmers are attached to the internal wiring of a terminal and aren’t visible. These are operated remotely with Bluetooth technology.
This type may be hard to spot. The Federal Trade Commission says consumers should make sure the pump doesn’t show any signs of tampering. Many stations now put security seals over the panel. The stickers will read “void” if the machine has been tampered with.
Another type of skimmer is a “false front” credit card skimmer that can be attached to bank ATMs and gas pumps. The devices fit over the slot where customers would insert their debit or credit cards and have the ability to read and retain their account information.
Before you swipe or insert your card in any point-of-sale device, you can try to rattle it or pull it loose. The legitimate terminals won’t move. If the terminal appears loose or comes free, it’s likely a skimmer.
Another technique used by criminals is to install a hidden camera somewhere on the machine that can capture your card number and your PIN. They can be hidden within a “false front” device, and the camera can be a small as a pinhole. You should try to cover your hand when you’re entering your number to avoid a camera capturing your PIN.
The Federal Trade Commission has additional tips to help consumers avoid skimmers:
If you use a debit card at the pump, run it as a credit card instead of entering a PIN. That way, the PIN is safe, and the money isn’t deducted immediately from your account. If that’s not an option, cover your hand when entering your PIN. Scammers sometimes use tiny pinhole cameras, situated above the keypad area, to record PIN entries.
Monitor your credit card and bank accounts regularly to spot unauthorized charges.
If you’re really concerned about skimmers, you can pay inside rather than at the pump. Another option is to use a gas pump near the front of the store. Thieves may target gas pumps that are harder for the attendant to see.
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