Scam of the day – April 22, 2016 – Epidemic of ATM skimmers

As regular readers of Scamicide know, skimmers are small electronic devices that are easily installed by an identity thief on ATMs and other card reading devices, such as at gas pumps.  The skimmer steals all of the information from the credit card or debit card used which then permits the identity thief to use that information to access the victim’s bank account when the skimmer is used on a debit card.  If a credit card is used, the identity thief can use the stolen information to access the victim’s credit card account.  Each skimmer can hold information on as many as 2,400 cards.  Recently, FICO Card Alert Service, a company that monitors ATM activity on behalf of banks issued a report indicating that last year the use of skimmers on ATMs increased by 600% over the previous year.


Always look for signs of tampering on any machine you use to swipe your credit card or debit card.  If the card inserting mechanism appears loose or in any other way tampered, don’t use it.   Debit cards, when compromised through a skimmer put the customers at risk of having the bank accounts tied to their cards entirely emptied if they do not report the theft promptly and even if they report the theft immediately, they will lose access to their bank account while the matter is investigated by the bank.  Skimmers at ATMs are often coupled with a thin, clear electronic device that goes on top of the keyboard to capture the victim’s PIN to enable the identity thief to access the account of the victim whose account number was captured through the skimmer.  Debit cards should not be used for purchases at gas pumps or for other retail purchases because the legal liability laws related to stolen debit card information are not as protective as the laws relating to fraudulent credit card use.  The FICO Card Alert Service report noted that 60% of the skimmer attacks were done on private, non-bank ATMS so you may wish to avoid those ATMS when possible.

Credit card rules required the use of new EMV smart chip credit card equipment by retailers to process these cards by October 1, 2015 in order for the retailer to avoid liability.   These rules, however, do not apply to the use of credit or debit cards at ATMs and gas pumps where the deadline to switch to the EMV smart cards is not until October 1, 2017 so you can expect identity thieves to continue to focus their attention on gas pumps and ATMs.

Scam of the day – December 19, 2014 – Are you protected when you use your debit card as a credit card?

Regular readers of Scamicide and my books, such as the recent “Identity Theft Alert” are familiar with my regular refrain that you should not use your debit card for anything other than an ATM card and even then you should carefully examine any ATM you are considering using for evidence of tampering that can indicate that the ATM has been tampered with and a skimmer installed on it that will capture your account data when you insert your card.  When you shop with a credit card whether online or in a brick and mortar store, your liability limit for fraudulent purchases made with your card is fifty dollars and most card issuers don’t hold you responsible for any fraudulent charges when you promptly report the fraud.  On the other hand, when you use your debit card, you are making a direct withdrawal from the bank account tied to your card.  If your debit card security is breached such as in a data breach as occurred in the last year at Target, Home Depot and numerous other stores your liability is five hundred dollars if you do not report the fraudulent use within two business days after learning of the breach and if you are not regularly monitoring your bank statements and do not report the fraudulent use for more than sixty days after your bank statement with the fraudulent charges is sent to you, your liability is unlimited.  Potentially, you could lose your entire bank account if you are not careful.  And even if you report fraudulent use of your debit card immediately, your bank account will be frozen and you will lose access to your own bank account while the bank investigates the matter which can be a tremendous inconvenience.

But what about people who use their debit card as a credit card at the register when paying for purchases?

When you present a debit card, you are asked if you want to use it as a debit card or a credit card which might lead some people to think that if they use it as a credit card, they are receiving the legal protections that apply when you use a credit card.  These people could not be more wrong.  Regardless of whether your debit card transaction is processed as a debit purchase with a PIN or as a credit card transaction without a PIN, the money is still processed as  a debit card with the funds being immediately withdrawn from your bank account.  Frankly, the only difference to the consumer is the fees associated with the card use.  Some banks charge you a transaction fee if you use your debit card as a debit card with a PIN for purchases, but charge the retailer a fee when the card is used as a “credit card” purchase.


Never, and I mean never, use your debit card for anything other than an ATM card.  Do not use it for purchases either in a store or online.  Make your purchases by credit card only and regularly monitor your credit card account carefully for unauthorized purchases and report them immediately.  Also, pay careful attention to small regular occurring charges that may appear on your credit card statement that you might otherwise overlook due to their small amount.  Some identity thieves count on their victims missing these regular charges that can add up considerably over time to a great amount of lost money for you.

Scam of the day – June 3, 2013 – Latest skimmer scam

I have been warning you about the dangers of skimmers since the inception of Scamicide and in my book “50 Ways to Protect Your Identity in a Digital Age.”  Recently a new wave of skimmer identity theft has been sweeping the country, with police in White Pine, Tennessee among the many places reporting an increase in this criminal activity.  As those familiar with Scamicide or my book know, a skimmer is a small electronic device that fits over any machine used to read credit cards or debit cards, such as ATMs, gas pumps or other similar devices.  Often the skimmer can be hard to recognize.  When you run your card through what you think is a legitimate card reader, your card’s information is provided to an identity thief who can use this information to make you a victim of identity theft, use your credit card to run up purchases in your name or use your debit card to empty your bank account.


Limit your use of ATMs to those of banks with which you are familiar and feel around the card insert to see if there is any indication that the device has been tampered with.  Also shield the key pad from any prying cameras that may be attempting to read your PIN when you insert it.  Also feel the pad itself to make sure that it has not been tampered with by overlaying the pad with a thin cover that electronically steals your PIN.  For more information about skimmers, you may want to get my book “50 Ways to Protect Your Identity in a Digital Age.”  You can click on the link that shows the book on the right side of this page to go directly to Amazon to get the book at a reduced price.  Also, do not use your debit card for any purchases because the protections that you have if your debit card information is compromised through a skimmer is much less than if you use a credit card.

Scam of the day – January 25, 2013 – Skimming update

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 .

Scam of the day – January 23, 2013 – Skimming at Aspen Colorado bank

Today’s scam of the day comes from Aspen Colorado. I just returned from a vacation in Aspen.  Aspen is a great place to visit anytime of year.  Unfortunately, while I was there, identity thieves were also there judging by the uncovering of a skimmer at a local bank’s ATM.  As regular followers of this blog are aware, skimmers are small devices that can be attached to ATMs so that when you believe you are inserting your ATM card into the ATM, you are actually also inserting it into the skimmer that reads the information on your card and make it easy for identity thieves to use that information to gain access to your bank accounts.  Often skimmers are used in conjunction with small cameras that watch and record as you input your PIN into the ATM.   Although this latest skimming incident involved a bank ATM, skimmers  have also been installed on gas pumps as well as  other devices through which you insert your credit card for a financial transaction.


Trust me, you can’t trust anyone.  Before you use an ATM, look for signs that may indicate that it has been tampered with, such as glue, tape or even if the card reader does not appear to be terribly secure.  When you input your PIN, cover the pad with your hand so that a disguised camera will not be able to read your card.  Be particularly wary of ATMs in vacation spots, because they are favorite hunting grounds for identity thieves.  If possible use an ATM that is inside a bank where there is less of likelihood that the machine has been tampered with.  Finally, make sure that you constantly monitor your account so that you can recognize immediately if unauthorized charges have been made from your account so that you can report the theft to the bank immediately.