Information Security

Skimming Scam — Be Careful When Using Credit and Debit Cards

Fake reader

A fake reader has been placed on top of the machine’s authentic slot.

Authentic reader

An authentic card reader. Note the green-lighted perimeter.

Whenever you use a credit or debit card, be on the lookout for skimming devices. Skimming is the unauthorized capture of magnetic stripe information from credit or debit cards. Criminals use modified hardware or software on a payment device such as an ATM and then take card information, including PIN data, to create dummy cards that can drain a victim's bank or credit account. Often, the funds are not taken until several months later.

ATMs aren’t the only target of skimmers. Criminals also target card readers at gas pumps and other point-of-sale locations.

According to the Secret Service, skimming is responsible for about $350,000 of losses each day in the U.S. and is considered to be the number one ATM-related crime. Trade group Global ATM Security Alliance estimates that skimming costs the U.S. banking industry about $60 million a year.

The USPS Computer Incident Response Team provides these tips to avoid being skimmed:

n Inspect an ATM, gas pump, or credit card reader before using it. Be suspicious if you see anything loose, crooked, or damaged or if you notice scratches or residue from adhesive or tape.

n When entering your PIN, block the keypad with your other hand to prevent possible hidden cameras from recording your number.

n If possible, use an ATM at an inside location where it’s not as easy for criminals to install skimmers. Remember to look carefully at the card reader used to unlock the door for any tampering.

n Be careful of ATMs in tourist areas since they are popular targets of skimmers.

n If your card isn’t returned after the transaction or after hitting “cancel,” immediately contact the financial institution that issued the card.

For more tips on recognizing skimming equipment, see the FBI’s information page on skimming: