How often do you actually check over an ATM or payment terminal before you swipe your card? For most of us, the answer is probably not very often. Lack of observation is what fraudsters are hoping for when they attach a skimming device on a machine.
Skimming is when an electronic device that ‘skims’, or steals, your card information is attached to an ATM or payment terminal. This is an easy way for criminals to get the information they need to make fraudulent purchases using your card data. Skimmers can be placed over the card reader, in the form of a tiny camera that records you as you enter your PIN, or they can be placed over an ATM keypad.
Unfortunately, this crime is becoming much more common. In fact, quite a few skimming devices in Michigan1,2 have been found recently. Next time you use your credit or debit card, take a few minutes to check your surroundings and look at the machine. We know this extra time can be a hassle when you’re in a rush, but it’s worth the extra effort to protect yourself and your money.
Take a Look Around
ATMs that are placed in dark areas, that cannot be seen from the street, or are placed behind large objects (like trees or shrubbery) should be used with caution or not at all. Well-lit ATMs that can easily be spotted from the street are less likely to be targeted by criminals.
Cover the Keypad
When you’re entering your PIN at an ATM or payment terminal, cover the keypad with your free hand. This prevents people around you from seeing your PIN when you’re in a crowded area. Also, if the machine has been tampered with and a pinhole camera is attached to the machine, this prevents criminals from recording your number.
Check the Card Reader
Before you insert your card into an ATM or payment terminal, pull on the card reader. If it seems loose or comes off when you tug on it, then don’t use the machine because it might be compromised. It’s a good idea to check the rest of the machine for pieces of equipment that seem loose or out of place. For example, sometimes criminals attach an extra mirror to an ATM and hide a small camera inside the mirror.
Gas pumps are a prime target for skimming devices because they are used frequently and are often unattended. It’s a better idea to pay inside the store when you go to fill up. If you have to use the terminal, make sure the seal sticker isn’t broken on the machine. And, again, cover the keypad and check the card reader for any signs of tampering.
If you find a skimmer or another suspicious object attached to an ATM, report it to the financial institution right away and avoid using the ATM. Similarly, if you find a skimmer on a payment terminal (like at a gas station) or suspect the machine has been tampered with, let the store employees know and do not use the machine.
It's a good idea to regularly check the recent activity on your accounts using Online, Mobile, or Text Banking. And rest assured that your debit cards are covered under the Mastercard® $0 liability policy1, meaning you’re not responsible for any unauthorized transactions if you meet certain terms.3
Next time you use your cards, take an extra few minutes to look around. Your observation skills are a huge deterrent from having your information end up in the wrong hands.