Skimming—the process of stealing your credit or debit card information at cash machines, gas pumps, restaurants, and in self-checkout lanes—is popular among the unscrupulous because there’s a lot of money to be made if they’re successful. According to the US Secret Service, the agency that investigates bank fraud, it’s a multi-billion dollar a year problem.
Skimmers scan your card data from the magnetic strip, and either store it in a database that scammers later access or transmit your data via Bluetooth to a laptop, tablet, or cell phone. Bluetooth gives them immediate access to your account information, and they don’t have to retrieve the skimmer—which increases their chance of being caught—to use it. Once they have your information, they’ll make a duplicate card and drain your bank account, rack up charges on your credit card, or sell your information on the underground market. Skimmers can be hard to detect, either hidden or so innocuous you wouldn’t notice them. And they can be active at a location for months without being discovered. Gas pumps are particularly vulnerable to skimming because the technology is quick to install and pumps are often out-of-sight of workers and customers. EMV chips provide an extra layer of security, but most gas stations won’t require these until 2020.
Here’s what you can do to minimize your risk:
- At the gas pump: Pay inside or use the pump most visible to the attendant. If you’re traveling, you may notice that some states use red or blue security tape to indicate the pumps are safe to use. Newer pumps are less likely to be tampered with. If you notice your transaction is unusually slow, alert the attendant and watch your account closely.
- At your ATM: Convenience store ATMs are more vulnerable to skimming than those at your financial institution, as are outdoor ATMs. When you can, go inside to withdraw cash.
- At the self-checkout lane: When using a self-checkout lane, look for telltale signs of a skimmer. They’re likely to be wider, longer, and less well lit than a real keypad. Using a card with an EMV chip is your best bet for card safety. Even major stores have been hit, so it’s good to stay alert.
- Choose wisely: Use your tools to pay at the checkout or online. Sign up for programs like a digital wallet service that uses Apple Pay or Google Pay. When paying online use Visa Checkout. Or use an app like Seattle Credit Union’s CardValet to monitor and manage how you use your cards.
- Check regularly: Look at your account statements at least monthly for fraudulent charges; if you do see a charge you didn’t make, report it to your financial provider within 60 days.
- When traveling: It’s always a good idea to let your card issuer know you’re traveling. In this case, it may help detect unauthorized use earlier.
We’ll work closely with you should you identify fraudulent charges on your card. And while no ATM is completely foolproof, our network of ATMs reports few skimming instances.