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How To Recognize And Avoid A Credit Card Skimmer

Posted on April 14, 2014

When you pay by credit card, take a close look at the slot you’re sticking your plastic inside: Transit officials in New York found a credit card skimmer inside a subway fare card vending machine Wednesday night.

A customer discovered the skimmer and pulled it from the machine at the 59th St.-Columbus Circle station. ATM-style skimmer scams, where thieves add a device that reads magnetic stripe data from the back of credit and debit cards, are an epidemic across the U.S. – the nation that’s home to the most financial losses in the world due to skimmer fraud, according to the EAST European Fraud Update.

In 2011, the average loss due to ATM skimming was $50,000, according to the Aite Group, a Boston-based research firm. That’s up from $30,000 in 2010.

This type of scam is expected to dwindle as the U.S. moves toward chip-and-pin cards, with a goal date of October 2015. The U.S. is decades behind Europe in adopting a fraud-thwarting card technology called EMV, which stores data on a chip inside the plastic rather than on the magnetic stripe.

ATM and gasoline skimmers make up 29% of physical attacks for consumers’ personal information, according to the 2012 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report. Though countries that use chip-and-pin have less skimmer fraud, other forms of physical attacks — using gas, bombs or even trucks to pry out ATMs — have increased, according to a research paper published in February by Pace University Professor Darren Hayes, who developed the school’s computer forensics program.

How to spot a skimmer:

  • Are there wires sticking out of the card reader?
  • Is the card reader loose or damaged?
  • Is there any tape or tape residue on the slot?
  • Does the reader look like it’s a different, off color from the rest of the machine?
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