In Edmond last week, news broke that several area gas stations had "skimmers" secretly installed on the gas pumps. To the average gas buyer, these skimmers are virtually undetectable and look just like the regular slot where they swipe or insert their credit cards. However, when a credit card holder swipes the card through a skimmer, their account data and credit card information is collected by thieves who either use the number to make purchases for themselves or who sell that information to others.
Often, people are concerned about using their credit cards online over unsecured websites, or they may fear using credit cards at major retailers due to a number of recent data breaches at stores like Target and Staples. However, there is another common way thieves can steal your financial information, and that is through skimmers like the ones found in Edmond late last month.
Skimmers include not only those installed on gas pumps, but also credit card skimmers on ATM machines and small, handheld skimmers that are often used at restaurants or other businesses where an employee takes your credit or debit card out of sight to process it.
Often, skimmers at ATM machines will be accompanied by a hidden camera that allows the person or organization that installed the skimmer and camera to observe ATM users entering their PIN numbers.The information may be used to make purchases, takeover accounts, or even counterfeit credit and debit cards.
If a skimmer looks almost just like the lawful, authorized card reader on a gas pump or ATM machine, how can a consumer protect himself or herself?
PCmag.com offers the following tips:
- Check for tampering - There may be obvious signs of tampering with an ATM machine or pump, but sometimes the difference is subtle. Compare the card reader on your machine to one nearby. Is the card reader a different color? Are stickers and decals crooked or misaligned? Does one pump have a flashing light to indicate where to put the credit card, but yours does not? Be hesitant of using any machine that appears to have been tampered with.
- Wiggle everything - In general, ATM machines and gas pumps are securely constructed. However, if someone has installed a skimmer over an authorized card reader, the skimmer may be loose, or a keypad with PIN tracking capabilities may move or jiggle when you push it.
- Think through your steps - Be aware of the times and locations most likely to be hit by a skimmer. PCmag.com reports that most skimmers are installed on busy weekends when people don't have time to pay attention to details or report suspicious-looking card readers. They then remove the skimmers late Sunday or early Monday before the banks open. Also, even if you do not see anyone else around you, cover your hand as you enter your PIN to shield it from any secretly installed cameras.
Other ways to protect yourself from credit card fraud and skimming include paying in cash, using prepaid credit cards, avoid debit cards, do not make purchases over public WiFi, and only use secure, encrypted websites (https) for online purchasing.