Stay Safe from Card Reader Skimming

The ability to pay at a customer-centric point of sale system is both convenient and easy. It also means not having to turn your credit card or debit card over to an employee, limiting the risk that any tampering or cloning can take place with your card. But scammers learned a long time ago that they could steal your credentials or wipe out your account with a tiny bit of readily available technology.

Skimming devices are tiny pieces of circuitry that can be fitted into or on top of a card reader, which then transmits your information to the thief. It’s been found to be more common in systems like gas pump card readers since it’s a little easier to tamper with the machine and install the skimmer without being noticed. That’s not to say those in-store POS systems—and therefore, sometimes the store employees—can’t also steal your information.

While the chip-and-dip system continues to roll out across the US, skimming devices are still a viable threat. FICO says it detected a 30% rise in hacked ATMs and POS terminals used by restaurants and merchants.

Even more alarming, if a retailer does not upgrade the POS system to accept the chip cards, any fraudulent purchases made via magnetic stripe cards aren’t the financial institutions’ responsibility. That’s why it’s extra-important that consumers be on the lookout for skimming, particularly at gas stations, and take action to reduce their risk:

1. Pay Inside

Paying inside is probably less of a threat than paying at the pump, as the exterior card readers give a thief more opportunity to install a skimmer with fewer prying eyes. However, many gas stations have begun implementing security tapes along the panel to the pump. If the tape is in place and has not been tampered with, there’s less of a chance that a skimmer was installed.

2. Use a Credit Card

If you do have to pay at the pump, using your credit card is less risky than using your debit card. If there’s a skimmer installed, your liability is less with a credit card than with your debit account, and you’ll avoid the nightmare of having your checking account drained compared to having fraudulent charges on your credit card.

3. Check with Bluetooth

Check your phone! New skimming device send its information back to the thief via Bluetooth, so open your phone’s Bluetooth and see what pops up. If you see a strange account based on a long string of random letters or numbers, that could be the skimmer’s connection. Pay with cash if you can and avoid putting your card at risk.

Of course, one of the best habits to reduce your risk of this kind of crime is to monitor your accounts frequently. It won’t stop someone from stealing your information, but it will let you take immediate action the second you see something suspicious, rather than finding out after serious damage has been done.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

Read next: Safeguarding Your PII

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