The holidays are a busy time of year where a lot of money changes hands and consumers become unwitting targets of all types of fraud. How about when you are getting cash out of the ATM or filling up your car on the way to Grandma’s house? These are perfect opportunities for thieves to remotely steal your hard-earned cash, often without your knowledge until way after the fact.
In this blog, we will discuss what point of sale “skimming” is and how to protect yourself from it this season.
What is Skimming?
Ever heard of “skimming off the top”? This describes exactly what point of sale (POS) skimming scams are in today’s electronic world. This type of theft occurs during legitimate transactions on POS systems where debit and credit cards are used on outdoor devices. Credit card information is “skimmed off the top” during the transaction, providing a quick score on your hard-earned money.
The most popular locations for skimming scams are ATMs and gas stations. Why? Because these POS systems are often unobserved by employees, which leaves the credit card systems vulnerable to scammers who tamper with the card readers. These are popular with criminals because the skimmers are also easy to create, install and use to obtain stolen credit card information quickly. For an added benefit, the skimming devices don’t have to be retrieved; the stolen data is electronically transmitted directly to the criminal. If the skimmer is detected, the criminal simply stops receiving the illegally obtained data and will install a new skimming device at another location.
There are some things to look for to help protect your credit card data from being “skimmed”. Before sliding a debit/credit card through a POS card reader, look for the following warning signs of tampering.
- The machine looks different (e.g. different keyboard)
- The card reader is loose when you tug on it
- The card does not slide in easily
Gas Station Pumps
- The seal on the fuel dispenser door is broken
- The fuel dispenser door shows signs of “forced entry”
- The “throat” of the reader is compromised (i.e. something is lodged in the channel)
When it comes to gas station pump skimmers, the good news is it is often only one pump that is compromised, but that one pump can cause a lot of heartache for those victims.
It’s always a good idea to watch for these obvious signs of tampering. However, as technology evolves, so does the thief.
Skimming is not always easily detected, which is why it is always a good idea to trust your gut instinct and error on the side of caution. Be especially aware of skimming executed with near field communication (NFC) or radio frequency identification (RFID) skimming. In these types of schemes, the thief is often nearby since the theft is conducted via low frequency signals. In these types of case, consumers should watch out for:
- Suspicious persons lingering nearby (e.g. sitting in their car and not pumping gas is a dead giveaway)
- People who suddenly leave a checkout line right after your radio frequency type of transaction is completed (e.g. contactless credit or debit card that is held up to the transaction devices for completion)
If you still don’t feel your transactions are safe, consider the following:
- Avoid ATMs and use electronic wallets to get cash
- Pay inside a gas station with cash or credit
- Use pumps closest to the gas station building
- Use the card as credit and not debit
- Invoke card fraud alerts and check card statements for suspicious activity
- Install an app on Android or Apple devices to detect Bluetooth connections that are being used for skimming
Overall, always use situational awareness, by being aware of your surroundings and trusting your gut instinct. If it doesn’t “feel” right, it probably isn’t.
Learn More About Situational Awareness with Timothy Dimoff
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