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In today’s digital age, shopping has never been easier. But with this convenience comes the risk of falling victim to credit card skimmers – devices designed to steal your card information. These devices are becoming increasingly sophisticated and harder to spot, making it crucial for consumers to stay vigilant. In this article, we’ll explore what a skimmer is and provide you with 11 practical tips to help you spot a skimmer when shopping, ensuring your transactions remain safe and secure.
What is a Skimmer?
A skimmer is a malicious device designed to steal credit or debit card information. Criminals attach these devices to legitimate card readers, like those on ATMs or gas pumps, to capture the data from the magnetic strip on your card when you swipe or insert it. Some skimmers also use a hidden camera or a fake keypad to capture your PIN. The stolen data is then used to create counterfeit cards or commit fraud. Being aware of what a skimmer is and how it works is the first step in protecting yourself from this type of theft.
Check for Tampering
Before you use an ATM or a card reader at a store, take a moment to check for any signs of tampering. Skimmers often require the criminal to modify the card reader. Look for anything out of the ordinary, such as different colors or materials, loose parts, or anything that looks added on.
Skimmers are often attached to the real card reader loosely so that they can be easily retrieved by the criminals. Before you insert your card, wiggle the card reader, the keypad, and any other parts that look suspicious. If anything moves, it could be a skimmer.
Shield Your PIN
Always shield your PIN when entering it, even if no one is around. Some skimmers use tiny cameras to record you entering your PIN. By covering the keypad, you protect your PIN from prying eyes and cameras.
Look for Hidden Cameras
In addition to checking the card reader, look around for any hidden cameras. They can be hidden in many places including in a brochure holder. These cameras are used to record your PIN as you enter it.
Use ATMs in Busy Areas
ATMs in busy areas are less likely to have skimmers. The more people around, the riskier it is for a criminal to install a skimmer. ATMs inside banks are usually the safest.
Be Wary of Non-Bank ATMs
Non-bank ATMs, like those at convenience stores or restaurants, are more likely to have skimmers. They’re often not as well-protected as bank ATMs, making them an easier target for criminals.
Check for Bluetooth Signals
Some skimmers transmit the stolen data via Bluetooth. Before you use an ATM, check your phone to see if there are any unknown Bluetooth signals. If there are, it could be a sign of a skimmer.
Monitor Your Accounts
Regularly check your bank and credit card accounts for any unauthorized transactions. If you spot anything unusual, contact your bank immediately. Early detection can limit the damage a skimmer can do.
Use Credit, Not Debit
If possible, use a credit card instead of a debit card. Credit cards have better fraud protection, and if your card information is stolen, it’s the bank’s money at risk, not yours.
Trust Your Gut
Finally, trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right about an ATM or a card reader, don’t use it. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
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Michelle Harler is the founder of Guide2Free, a website dedicated to finding and sharing freebies, product testing opportunities, and other ways to save money. With over a decade of experience in the industry, her expertise in finding quality offers makes Guide2Free an invaluable resource for anyone looking to try new products and save money.