From 2009 to 2011, there was a 24 percent increase in debit card volume in the U.S., according to the Federal Reserve. As Americans become more reliant on their debit cards, criminals are adapting to the evolution in consumer payments by targeting payment cards too.

Jeff Egnaczyk / Flickr |

Jeff Egnaczyk / Flickr source

Using card-skimming devices, these crooks simply steal the information to make replicate cards, which can be used to spend and withdraw cash from ATMs.

Normally, an apparatus that looks like a card-insertion slot is attached to the actual slot. As you dip your card into the slot, the data on the magnetic strip is recorded in a small digital drive within the apparatus. A camera is also mounted nearby to record your PIN entry. Once the thieves return to retrieve the card skimmer and camera, stolen card information is transferred to blank cards.

Armed with a working debit card and accompanying PINs, they’re at liberty to take out cash from victims’ accounts. The criminal activity is usually unknown to victims until they notice a suspicious transaction on their monthly statements.

The most common places for card-skimming

Stand-alone ATMs. Prime targets for card skimmers are ATMs that are located in dimly-lit locations, tucked inside the corner of a store, or left alone with little to no surveillance. It is easier to for criminals to attach and remove card skimmers without anyone noticing.

Gas stations. Self-service gas stations have such high amounts of debit card activity that signals a very rewarding proposition for card skimmers. Unlike bank ATMs, It’s difficult to tell whether or not there is a card skimmer at the payment terminals of gas stations, so most people don’t even notice something wrong.

Restaurants. While card-skimming tends to be a faceless crime, it’s an activity that can be carried out by seemingly friendly people. Shady restaurant employees have been known carry portable card skimmers to steal card information when patrons hand over their cards to pay the bill.

Don’t be a victim

Since card-skimming is fraud, banks will reimburse the funds that were stolen. For most consumers, this is simply a major inconvenience as funds are unavailable for a short period of time and debit cards must be reissued with new card numbers.

However, it’s best to avoid the ordeal entirely.

Before inserting or swiping your card at the ATM or gas station, give the card terminal a firm nudge. Because card skimmers are made for easy removal, you may be able to detach one. (Call local authorities if you do come across a card skimmer.)

Also, whenever you enter your PIN on a keypad, make sure to cover your hand as you do so. Such a practice will prevent any hidden cameras from recording your key presses.

With hospitality and food establishments, insist that you keep your card in sight while employees charge your card.


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