Following up on January 23rd’s “scam of the day,” skimming is a growing problem and one that is going to get worse before it gets better. According to the U.S. Secret Service, thefts from ATM skimmers now total more than a billion dollars a year and this amount is expected to rise this year. Skimmers, as you may remember, are small plastic devices that fit over the slot where you insert your card into an ATM or other card reading apparatus, such as is found on a gas pump. Often the skimmer takes the form of a thin plastic sheath over the slot where you insert your card. The skimmer reads the magnetic strip on the card as it is inserted and steals that information. Sometimes thieves will put small cameras near or on the ATM to view the keyboard as the unwary customer inserts his or her PIN into the ATM or other card reader. Other times, more sophisticated criminals will install a phony keypad over the real keypad to record the PIN and then transmit the information wirelessly as a text message to the criminal.
Taking some simple precautions can reduce your chances of becoming a victim of an ATM skimmer. Check out the surface of the ATM, particularly the slot where you insert your card. If it appears to be scratched or has evidence of glue or adhesive, don’t use it. If the keypad feels odd or if the keys offer unusual resistance to your touch, don’t use it. When punching in your PIN, shield the keypad from any prying cameras or eyes that may be present. Pull a little on the ATM where you insert your card. If it is loose, it may be contaminated by a skimmer. When possible, use ATMs within bank buildings as these are more likely not to be subject to a skimmer. Finally, review your account statement regularly online to quickly learn of any criminal access to your account .