by HCS Technical Staff
“What is a card skimmer?”
Card skimmers are nasty little devices that are designed to surreptitiously steal information off your bank card or credit card by reading the magnetic strip when you conduct a transaction at either an ATM machine, a self-checkout lane at a store, gas pump, a DVD rental kiosk or any other device that can read your bank card.
They are often placed over or right along side the targeted machine’s reader to cross the path on which you will insert or swipe your card.
“Doesn’t my PIN protect me?”
Unfortunately, not really.
Depending on your bank’s practices, there is a wide variety of information on the bank card that can be used to readily steal your identity.
Often times you will not notice if your card has been skimmed since this is more of a “slow burn” crime than the archetypal “stolen wallet leading to a bunch of random shoe purchases” scenario!
Skimmers are often used in conjunction with other devices that can steal your PIN as well.
“What do the bad guys need my card for? It’s only got $2.14 on it!”
Bank card information is like having the majority of pieces for a puzzle. The puzzle being your identity.
“Carders” will often bundle up stolen bank card numbers and sell them as a “grab bag” in some very dark corners of the Internet.
“What do skimmers look like?”
This is where things can get complicated. Since a skimmer can be readily home fabricated using the right circuits and parts, there is not really a sole-source of manufacturing for them. Credit card readers for smart phones can also be reconfigured into skimmers.
This means that skimmers will often look totally different from each other and function in different ways.
Skimmers are often used in conjunction with fake keypads and/or pinhole cameras to steal the PIN attached to a particular bank card.
Go to http://images.google.com/ and type in “card skimmer” and become familiar with the images that show up.
“How do I protect myself?”
As a general rule of thumb, if something seems out of place on an ATM machine or Kiosk, don’t use it!
Oftentimes something attached to an ATM may jiggle, feel loose, or just seem or feel out of place.
If you think that you have found a skimmer, leave the area, and call your local police department. The reason I say leave the area, is because the skimmer device is often being watched by the bad guy who planted it or someone working as a lookout for the guy who planted it who would not take kindly to you disrupting his business. Also if the bad guy doesn’t realize the police have been called, he is more likely to get caught when the police arrive after you call them.
Tell the dispatcher you saw one of those devices that steals your bank card number attached to a kiosk/ATM and give the dispatcher the location.
Check your bank account regularly and look for transactions that you can’t remember.
Check your credit report regularly to look for accounts that may have been opened in your name.
Use a prepaid VISA or other payment card for things like grocery shopping, DVD Rentals, online gaming accounts, and other services. It will reduce any damage done by skimmers and allow you to better stick to a budget!
Generally if you are diligent in watching for signs both before the skimming attack and afterwards, you can reduce what could be a source of major problems into a minor nuisance.