What if you went to pay for a purchase but the person you gave your money to was an imposter, merely dressed up to look like a store employee? While this kind of scam is unlikely, it’s essentially what criminals do when they replace the front of an unattended payment card terminal with a fake one that steals your account information. The stolen payment card data is then used to then make fraudulent purchases online or over the phone. These illegal card readers are commonly called skimmers, and their use is on the rise.
According to FICO, the rate of compromised ATM cards rose 39% in the first six months of 2017 in the U.S. Skimmers can also be found at gas pumps and even at self-checkout lanes inside of stores. Although some fake facades are easy to spot, others can deceive anyone but the most sophisticated expert.
How to protect yourself against skimmers
Thankfully, here are some things that you can do to protect yourself from skimmers. The Federal Trade Commission advises consumers to avoid gas pump skimmers by seeing if the terminal looks different than others. For example, skimmers might be constructed of a different material, or be a different color than the rest of the terminal, and will look different than card readers on other pumps. Pay inside if you suspect a skimmer has been installed. It’s also important to closely monitor your payment card accounts so that you can quickly dispute any fraudulent charges. And security expert Brian Krebs recommends using credit cards instead of debit cards as fraudulent charges are more easily sorted out and won’t immediately drain your bank account.
It’s just gotten harder to skim
If there’s some good news on this front, it’s that the growing implementation of EMV smart chips is likely to curtail the use of skimmers. Compared to the old magnetic strips, EMV chips are much more difficult to clone, so most fraudsters don’t bother trying. In Canada, where EMV equipped payment cards and terminals have been used since 2012, ATM skimming has dropped to historic low levels. But in the United States, the conversion of ATMs to the EMV standard is only expected to take place later this year, while converting gas pumps accept to be EMV compatible has been delayed to 2020.
Criminals will always look for ways to make a fast buck, but the payment card industry is working hard to thwart them. Be on the lookout for fraudulent payment terminals, and bogus charges to your account, you too can fight back against this creative form of payment fraud.