Better Business Bureau

Credit card skimming is a crime that occurs when a fake card slot device is installed at a card terminal like an ATM or a gas pump. When a customer inserts a debit or credit card into the machine, the device “skims” account information from the card’s magnetic strip without the victim’s knowledge. According to the Wall Street Journal, criminals are stealing data from ATM machines and gas stations at the highest rate in 20 years. Criminals then sell the stolen information or use it to make purchases online. The victim usually doesn’t find out about the information theft until the arrival of a credit card statement or an overdraft notice.

How skimming works

Skimming devices are designed to blend into the ATM or gas pump’s façade. The device is often a realistic-looking card reader placed over the real card reader, or an insert covering parts of the card reader. When a customer inserts a card into the device, the account information is swiped and recorded or transmitted wirelessly to the criminals.

Credit and debit card skimming is a growing threat to consumers filling up at gas stations. It’s become so bad, it has had an impact on how Americans pay for gas. According to a recent survey by CompareCards. to avoid having their credit card information stolen again, roughly two-thirds of victims said they have changed the way they pay for gas.  Of the respondents, 45 percent said they use credit cards more, while 39 percent said they choose to pay for gas inside and another 16 percent said they pay with cash.

What can the consumer do?

Be observant: Before using an ATM or gas pump, inspect the machine and do not use it if there is any indication of a skimming device. Check the card reader and the area near the PIN pad for anything loose, crooked, damaged or scratched. Look for glue or tape residue that may have been used to attach a device.

Protect your PIN: Cover the keyboard with your free hand to block the view of a hidden camera or shoulder surfer. If a consumer uses a debit card at the pump, they can run it as a credit card instead of entering a PIN number and the money is not deducted immediately from their account.

Monitor personal accounts: Consumers should verify their account statement or check their account online frequently for suspicious charges or withdrawals.

If a consumer has become a victim of credit card skimming, they should alert the Federal Trade Commission and contact their credit card issuer. Provide as much detail as possible about the location of ATMs and gas stations visited.

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