You’re on your way home from the office when you realize that your gas tank level is dipping low. Tomorrow will be an (especially) busy day, so you decide to refuel now. You pull into your usual gas station. It’s crowded with your fellow commuters, so you wind up at the farthest pump. You swipe your plastic, top off your tank, and, this five-minute pit stop concluded, you are back en route and already wondering what to make for dinner. Another day, another dollar, right?
Except that today, credit card criminals, using a “skimmer” device attached to the card-reading mechanism on that gas pump, have just gotten ahold of your card information. Now, they are well on their way to creating a cloned card with which to rack up fraudulent charges in your name. Ouch!
Even chip cards cannot always provide complete protection against skimmers. But, by following these tips, you can stay one step ahead of data thieves and lessen your chances of getting skimmed.
Remember: Location, Location, Location
If you were trying to do something illegal, you’d prefer to do it in a place where you wouldn’t be seen, right? This is why outdoor card-reading machines, like gas pumps and ATMs, are particularly vulnerable to skimmers.
Data thieves are more likely to attach skimming devices onto the gas pump that’s farthest away from the gas station building, or on an ATM that stands alone in some low-traffic parking lot. So choose a pump that’s close to the station store, even if it means waiting a few extra minutes. When you need to withdraw cash, it’s best to use the ATM inside a bank branch, or, next best, inside a crowded grocery store.
Look Before You Swipe
Skimming devices are easy to miss on first glance, but do a little informed investigating and you can often find them. Before you swipe your card, go ahead and give that card-reader a firm wiggle with your hands. Skimmers can’t be too difficult to remove because thieves need to be able to take them back off as inconspicuously as possible. Some are affixed with temporary glue or double-sided tape and will come loose when you pull a little.
Otherwise, look for little signs that something is off with the card-reading mechanism. Things to be suspicious of: A dimmed light, a keypad that’s raised rather than flush with the console, or any noticeable differences between the machine you’re using and another one next to it.