Article | 3:07 min read

What You Need to Know about Credit Card Skimming


A person putting their card into an ATM

Credit card skimming is a form of theft that resembles old-school thievery. Instead of hacking unsecured Internet connections or breaking through a bank's firewall, credit card skimming involves the use of technology installed on ATMs or gas pumps to read your card.

When you're the victim of skimming, you might not realize it right away. However, you can avoid having your financial information stolen if you know common skimming techniques.

Likewise, banks and other financial institutions have also amped up their security to better protect you, the customer.

How does skimming work?
In order to steal a credit card's information, criminals will install skimming devices on ATMs, in gas pumps or on vending machines. This device, typically no bigger than a deck of playing cards, records your card's information, which is found on the black magnetic strip.

Additionally, criminals may also tamper with ATMs by installing a miniature camera to record your PIN, or they may even install a fake keyboard that records your four digit code. Once they have that information, they can withdraw funds from your bank account before you can alert your bank.

Credit card skimming is made even more problematic because criminals tend to target ATMs and gas pumps that are found in less populated areas where the devices are less likely to be spotted. However, skimming can also occur at populated areas, such as restaurants and shopping mall kiosks.

How to spot skimming
Whenever you're about to swipe your card, particularly at a gas pump or ATM, always check the card readers. According to PC Magazine, wiggle the card reader and keypad to see if anything is loose [1]. If anything moves, your best bet is to alert the bank or gas station operator and to use a different machine. When you type in your PIN, cover your hand with the other to avoid the numbers being recorded, however, this method might not seem that strong if a key logging device is used.

Skimming at a restaurant may be more difficult to spot because your card is often taken out of sight to be swiped. You should enable notifications on your smartphone for all purchases. If you notice an unusual transaction, even if it's under $10, you can file a fraud claim with your bank or credit card provider.

Can I prevent skimming?
Banks and credit card companies have begun to issue new cards to their customers utilizing the EMV standard. These cards are built with a chip that, according to NerdWallet, encrypts your data and increases personal security [2]. Every transaction then generates a unique code when you place the EMV card in a card reader. Skimming is rendered useless because the card's information changes with every transaction.

If you haven't received an EMV card from your bank, you should contact them.

Smartphones can also prevent skimming if the retailer accepts mobile payments. Services such as Apple Pay and Android Pay do not involve any type of card swiping and, like EMV cards, all transactions are encrypted with unique codes.

With so much sophisticated technology, the best method to prevent skimming is to use cash. Whenever you get gas, or eat out, consider paying with cash to prevent your card's information from being stolen.

Unfortunately, credit card skimming does not seem to be going away anytime soon. You can prevent skimming by inspecting an ATM or gas pump before swiping, in addition to using more secure technologies.

As always, constantly check your statements to spot any unusual transactions that may signal your information has been stolen. In those instances, contact your bank immediately to reverse those charges and to receive a new card.


[1]. How to Spot and Avoid Credit Card Skimmers

[2]. EMV Cards Can't Be Skimmed Like Magstripe Cards

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