Finance Globe

U.S. financial and economic topics from several finance writers.
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BBB: Skimming is on the Rise

Before swiping their card at any credit or debit card terminal, such as an ATM, DVD rental kiosk, or gas station, consumers should take a moment to inspect the machine to check if it’s been tampered with. Card skimming is becoming more common, the Better Business Bureau warned on Friday.

Skimming is a criminal practice that involves stealing the information from a credit or debit card’s magnetic strip using a small electronic device. Once the information has been obtained, the thieves can then counterfeit a blank card with your financial data and use the account as if they had stolen the physical card. In the case of ATMs, the crooks may also install a hidden camera nearby to catch you inputting your PIN so they can make a withdrawal later.

Card skimming has become a $1 billion a year racket, according to

To avoid falling victim to card skimming, the BBB suggests that consumers avoid using ATMs that are in low traffic or poorly lit areas - crooks are more likely to target these machines to install the fake card readers. Experts generally recommend a bank ATM over a standalone ATM. The FBI recommends using an indoor ATM if possible, and cautions against ATMs in the highly-targeted tourist areas.

If something looks out of the ordinary - for example, you notice a new or suspiciously-placed camera, or unusual signage - then move on to use another ATM. For these reasons, it may be better to stick to ATMs that you are familiar with so that you are more likely to notice when something does look fishy. A little pre-planning can help you avoid the need to constantly use unfamiliar ATMs when out and about. Be suspicious if you see any signs of tampering with the machine - if parts are crooked, scratched, loose, or taped with adhesive, the FBI also cautions.

Always cover the keypad when inputting your PIN to avoid it being recorded by any cameras that may have been hidden nearby. FICO also recommends changing your PIN periodically. But even this may not be enough - the FBI warns that rather than using camera, some crooks install a fake keypad that records your PIN.

And though you may be extra careful whenever you swipe your credit or debt card, be alert to possible skimming opportunities whenever your card leaves your hand. For example, card skimming rackets have popped up in various restaurants around the country, usually the result of a card skimming crook and a restaurant worker teaming up together. You eat your meal, the server brings your bill, and you send your credit card off to a dark corner nowhere to be seen for a few moments. It only takes a swipe through the thief’s portable device and they’ve got your number - and everything else they need to counterfeit your credit card and use your account.

Even if you’re very careful, it’s possible to still get skimmed - or otherwise defrauded. Monitor your monthly statements, and check carefully for any unauthorized activity. Consider signing up for alerts that tell you when certain types of transactions occur. And finally, notify fraudulent activity to your bank as soon as you are aware of it.

Better Business Bureau
Federal Bureau of Investigation
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Thursday, 28 September 2023

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