For consumers who may be unaware, skimming is a tactic used to steal credit card information. The thief can procure a victim’s credit card number using basic methods such as photocopying receipts or more advanced methods such as using a small electronic device to steal a victims’ credit card numbers.

In order to avoid becoming a victim of credit card skimming, here’s a list of the five most common places skimming occurs:

1. The Gas Pump 

The gas station is a favorite for thieves who use skimmers. This is because there are multiple credit card slots sitting outdoors, none of which have a clerk or employee directly monitoring their use.  Typically thieves will install a small electronic reader (which can be seen if closely observed) on the existing card reader. This additional illicit reader will store your credit card information as you swipe your card to activate the gas pump.  They’ll then come back later and pick the reader up in order to make use of the stolen credit card information.

2. ATM Machines

This is a popular choice for the same reasons as the gas station.  Thieves can leave a skimmer on a card reader outdoors and leave it to collect your information.

3. Restaurants/Bars

Usually, in these circumstances, the theft is pulled off by one of the actual employees of the establishment you’re visiting.  Either utilizing a small, mobile card reader or by waiting until you open a bar tab and walk away, a skimmer in this circumstance will either scan or otherwise store your credit card number in order to run up illicit charges in the coming days and weeks. Most of us never think twice about leaving our cards unprotected in the hands of an employee at the restaurant or bar we frequent, and the majority of servers and bartenders are honest, hardworking people.  But beware those few bad apples.  Just to be safe, it’s always good practice to close out your bar tab after each drink order (unless you know the bartender personally) and pay attention to what your server does once they walk off with your card.

4. Department Stores

The next time you go clothes shopping, be sure to pay close attention to the clerk who swipes your card.  Department stores can be potential hot spots for skimming because much like a restaurant or bar, it is not unusual for a clerk to leave your sight to process the transaction, making the temptation greater, and the successful completion of the scam easier.  Sometimes a skimmer will pay an inordinate amount of attention to the number on your card, so if they seem to be staring as though trying to memorize your number, or examining it front and back as if they’ve never seen such wonders before, it would be smart to watch them closely.

5. Call Centers

Do you order goods or services over the phone? Buyer beware, especially of call centers in foreign countries where the phone operators are paid very low wages.  In these cases, there’s a higher likelihood that one of these operators will use the credit card number you supply over the phone for their own personal gain.

The same concerns exist if you use a debit card.  However, the risk of damage to you is greater with a debit card, since you don’t have the same legal protections as a credit card.  Skimming a debit card requires that the thief also get the security PIN for the card, which does make it more difficult.  However, as the ITRC has seen, crooks can and do also seek debit card information.  So, you should be very careful of any transactions requiring the use of your debit card PIN where clerks or other bystanders could gain access to the card and the PIN at the same time.

If you suspect you’ve become a victim of credit card skimming, contact your credit card carrier and your bank and inform them of the fraud. Check your statements regularly so you can catch fraudulent activity as soon as it happens.  In some cases, you may be required to file a police report, but most complaints filed with your bank or credit issuer within 30 days of the fraud will be forgiven.

If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530.