Don't put your money at risk

Protect Yourself against Card Skimmers

by Bill Hardekopf


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Card skimming is now a sophisticated crime that can happen anywhere you swipe your credit or debit card.

Thieves can insert a skimmer into the card reader sleeve and hide a tiny camera nearby to record PIN numbers. There are usually no signs that your card was skimmed. By using the stolen debit card and PIN number, a thief can quickly drain all of the money from your bank account.

A skimmer can look like part of the ATM and be very hard to see. After the card is swiped, the data on the magnetic stripe is picked by the skimmer's card reader. It can then be stored on the memory of the skimmer device or wirelessly transmitted to a secondary location. The camera can be smaller than an eraser head and also look like part of the machine. Memory cards can store video footage and details of thousands of unknowing bank customers.

Skimming devices and software are sold on the web. In addition, the stolen account numbers can be sold to online shoppers.

There are some steps you can take to protect against skimmers:

  • Before swiping your debit card, give a small tug on the card swiper. If there is any movement or the device comes off, don't use that ATM. It could be a sign that a thief has inserted a skimmer.

  • You may be able to keep the thief from seeing your PIN number by covering the keyboard with your free hand and blocking the view of a camera.

  • Check your account statement regularly for suspicious charges or withdrawals.

  • If you think your card has been part of a skimming scam, contact your financial institution immediately.

Chip-and-pin technology could provide better protection against skimmers. These cards use microchip and PIN numbers instead of the magnetic stripe. The embedded chips are encrypted to prevent skimmers from accessing card information, but adoption of these cards has been slow in the United States because it requires a new ATM system and a large investment to install suitable terminals.


Bill Hardekopf is CEO of LowCards.com, a site that simplifies the confusion of shopping for credit cards. It is a free, independent website that helps consumers easily compare credit cards in a variety of categories, such as lowest rates, rewards, rebates, balance transfers and lowest introductory rates. It also gives an unbiased ranking and review for each card.

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