A skimming device is a piece of hardware that is attached to any credit/debit card processing machine and will record all the data that is contained on the magnetic strip on the back of your card. The skimming device is often supplemented with a camera discreetly positioned so that it can secretly record you enter your PIN number if using a debit card. A skimming device can be placed on ATM machines, gas station pumps and at the cashier at your local retailer.

 Check the machine you are using for any suspicious additional hardware attached to it or for a warning sticker that has been cut or torn.

Identity Theft and SkimmingA skimmer can be small and inconspicuous, but it is nonetheless an additional piece of hardware that must be physically attached to any machine that you are using. Always be sure to check for any hardware that looks like it was manually added and does not conform to the rest of the machine.  On some machines,the skimmer can be attached in a hidden compartment such as a gas station pump. The gas station pump credit/debit card swipe is often covered and you will not be able to see a skimmer that is attached to it because it is hidden behind a panel or compartment that must be opened in order to access it.

Many gas stations place a sticker over the panel opening so that it must be removed, cut or torn in order to reach the component the skimmer must be attached to. Whenever one of these stickers looks stretched, excessively worn, or severed, you should look for a different pump or gas station.

Use a credit card over a debit card whenever possible.

The reason for this is due to the differences between how a credit card and debit card work. A credit card is simply a line of credit extended to you from a financial institution. When you pay for something with a credit card, you are creating a debt with the financial institution that you will have to pay later. A debit card is different in that it is not a line of credit, but a conduit to your bank account which contains your hard earned money. This is related to two problems that  occur when your debit card is used for fraud as opposed to your credit card. First, since your debit card is attached to your bank account, a criminal can potentially drain all the money out of your bank account leaving you with no money to pay your bills. A criminal using your credit card can run up a nasty bill, but at least you will still have the money in your bank account to be able to pay bills such as rent and car payments. Second, banks treat debit cards and credit cards differently when it comes to fraudulent transactions. Credit cards are offered much more robust liability protection in that, generally, your liability for fraudulent transactions will usually be at maximum $50.00. A debit card on the other hand will have liability limited to $50.00 so long as you report the fraudulent transaction within two days. Your liability will be limited to $500.00 if reported between 2 and 60 days, and you will be liable for the entire fraudulent transaction if you fail to report it within 60 days.

Monitor your credit and debit card accounts as often as possible.

In order to reap the benefits of limited liability and to prevent a thief from using your card information over several days or weeks, you must be vigilant in monitoring your accounts to find evidence of fraudulent transactions. The sooner you detect a fraudulent transaction, the faster you will be able to report the fraud to your financial institution, limit your liability for the purchase, and shut down the card so that it can no longer be used.

If you found this information helpful, you may want to consider taking part in the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Anyone3 fundraising campaign.  For more information or to donate please visit http://www.idtheftcenter.org/itrc-launches-anyone3-campaign.