How to Avoid Credit Card Skimmers

Think twice before you swipe that card!

Woman using a bank machine

Jacobs Stock Photography / Getty Images

What to Know

  • Inspect card reader and area around PIN pad. Look for irregularities like mismatched color or style.
  • Compare card reader and PIN pad to other nearby machines. If uncertain, move to another machine.
  • Use "Credit" option when paying to avoid entering PIN at gas pumps. Check for suspicious card activity.

This article explains how to identify and avoid credit card skimmers at ATMs and gas pumps.

Inspect the Card Reader and the Area Near the PIN Pad

Many banks and merchants realize that skimming is on the rise and will often post a picture of what the real device is supposed to look like, so you will see that there is something attached that is not supposed to be there if a skimmer is present. Of course, a card skimmer could put a fake picture over the real image, so this isn't a fail-safe way to spot a skimmer.

To see what some skimmers look like, check out these examples of card skimmers so you'll have an idea of what to look for.

Most bad guys temporarily affix skimming devices to ATMs or gas pumps so they can easily retrieve them once they've collected a batch of cardholder data.

If you think the scanning device doesn't look like it matches the machine's color and style, it might be a skimmer.​

Look at Other Nearby Gas Pumps or ATM Card Readers to See If They Match

Unless skimmers are running a massive operation, they are probably only skimming at one gas pump at a time at the station you are using. Look at the pump next to yours to see if the card reader and setup look different. If they do, then you might have just spotted a skimmer.

If in Doubt, Use Another One

Our brains are excellent at recognizing things that seem out of place. If you get a sense that something looks off about the ATM you are about to use, you might be better off using a different one.

Avoid Using Your PIN at the Gas Pump

When you pay at the pump with your debit/credit card, you usually have the option to use it as a credit or a debit card. It's best to choose the credit option. Doing so prevents you from entering your PIN. Even if there is not a card skimmer camera, someone could be watching you enter your PIN.

When you use the credit card option, you usually only have to enter your billing ZIP code as verification, which is much safer.

Keep an Eye on Your Accounts

If you suspect that you might have had your card skimmed. Keep an eye on your account balance and report any suspicious activity immediately.

What Does a Card Skimmer Do?

A credit card skimmer is a portable capture device attached in front of or on top of a legitimate scanner. The skimmer passively records the card data as you insert your credit card into the real scanner.

Credit card thieves will often temporarily affix the card skimmer device to gas pumps, ATMs, or other convenient self-service point-of-sale terminals. The bad guys like gas pumps and ATMs because they are easy to retrieve their skimmers from, and they generally receive a lot of traffic.

Skimmer technology has become cheaper and more sophisticated over the years. Some skimmers capture the card information using a magnetic reader and use a miniature camera to record you typing in your PIN. Some skimmers will even go so far as to place a secondary keypad over top of the actual keypad. The secondary keypad captures your PIN and records it while passing your input to the real keypad.

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