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Tuesday Tip: Be Aware and Beware of Card Skimmers

There are a number of hidden financial dangers in this high-tech world in which we live. One of the most damaging money hazards is for your credit or debit card information to fall into the wrong hands. Our credit counseling advice is to always be on the lookout for card skimmers anywhere credit cards are accepted.

Look out for card skimmers at places such as gas stations or ATMs.

Look out for card skimmers at places such as gas stations or ATMs.

What Are Card Skimmers?

Anywhere you swipe your card to pay or retrieve cash, there is potential for a criminal to install a card skimmer. Card skimmers are card-scanning devices that can be placed over legitimate card readers. They “skim” information from consumers’ cards so that identity thieves can gain access to accounts. If any fraudulent activity goes unnoticed, it can result in debilitating debt and credit problems for victims.

The true danger of skimming devices is that it can catch card holders totally off guard. Unlike a lost or stolen card, there’s no way to know that a card is compromised. Consumers can’t know that anything is wrong until they see fraudulent activity on their statement. At that point, it’s potentially too late to reverse the damage.

Spotting Card Skimmers

If you want to protect yourself from the financial harm skimmers can cause, then you must be vigilant. The most common card readers that get corrupted are those at gas pumps and ATM’s. However, there have been instances of older cash register self-swiping terminals being rigged to steal card numbers. Unfortunately, that means you can’t ever really let your guard down when swiping your cards.

Here are the steps to spotting card skimmers:

  1. Check for signs of tampering. Any scratch marks around the terminal or other unusual signs of wear might indicate someone has altered the machine.
  2. Wiggle the scanner and keypad. Most skimmers are just identical face plates that can be placed on top of the actual card reader and keypad. This allows the transaction to be processed normally while information is secretly stolen. Gently jiggling or touching the components can reveal illegal devices.
  3. If anything seems off, don’t swipe your card. Legitimate devices are mass produced by professional manufacturers. If anything is strange in terms of text or numbers being printed strangely, weird pieces, missing buttons, or malfunctioning lights, it’s best not to risk it.
  4. Alert a cashier or staff member to suspicious machinery. We’re all in this together, so don’t let others get scammed. If you notice anything suspicious, make the staff aware so that the machine can be flagged and repaired.

Extra Tips for Protecting Your Account Info

No preventative measures are 100% effective. Here are some ways to add an extra layer of security and prevent financial harm.

  • Never use your debit card to pay for things. Almost every credit card available today comes with zero-liability fraud protection. Debit cards don’t always offer this, and they’re connected directly to your bank account. Using credit allows you to dispute fraud before money is withdrawn from your account.
  • Use your smartphone to pay or access funds. New features at ATM’s and payment terminals let smartphones securely transfer payment info. The data in these transfers is encrypted. Thus, it is impossible for thieves to use it to access your account.

Lastly, always keep an eye on your accounts and your credit report. Being aware of hidden dangers and suspicious activity will allow you to react quickly. Thus reducing the risk of needing help with debt problems related to fraud.

If you’re struggling to pay off debt, ACCC can help. Schedule a free credit counseling session with us today.


Andi is a Marketing Assistant at ACCC. He is passionate about supporting financial literacy efforts and helping to educate people on the Talking Cents blog!

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