Credit Card Skimming: Think Twice Before You Swipe

February 12, 2016 • Author: Denise Maines, Salin Bank Security Officer

You swipe; they steal. It’s called credit card skimming, and it’s a crime growing exponentially in Central Indiana.
Here’s how the crime works: Skimming thieves use small high-tech devices that scan or “skim” your credit and debit card data from the card’s magnetic stripe. Oftentimes, skimming devices are installed on an ATM or inside a gas pump. Once the credit card has been swiped through the skimmer, the personal information and data are extracted and recorded. The thieves then usually sell the stolen information over the Internet so counterfeit cards can be manufactured. The U.S. Department of the Treasury reported that hidden cameras often accompany the machines to record a consumer’s PIN number.
Skimming is a growing problem in the United States, responsible for up to billions of dollars a year in losses, according to 2014 study by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants. And it's a problem keeping local police in Indiana very busy.
Just this month, skimming devices were detected and removed by Marion police from gas pumps at two different stations. In December, police in Rushville, Indiana, cited skimming devices as the cause of more than 100 reports of fraud in Rush County.
To protect your money from illegal skimming - whether at a gas pump, an ATM, or convenience store - law enforcement officials offer the following advice:
  • Try to use gas pumps that require a ZIP code entry. This extra step provides another layer of security protection.
  • Check to make sure the gas pump dispenser cabinet is completely closed and has not been tampered with.
  • Physically feel the slot where you insert your credit card to ensure it is not loose or ajar.
  • Opt for a gas pump that is situated as close as possible to the front of the store. Skimmer thieves typically like gas pumps that are out of view of the actual store to conduct their crime.
  • If you are using a debit card, run it as credit instead of inputting the PIN number. Or, pay for your purchase with cash inside the store.
  • Some skimmers use a short-wave Bluetooth technology that requires a person be nearby. If you notice suspicious people lingering near your car, leave the premises.
  • Many gas stations currently are putting security seals on their gas pumps. If the seal is broken, don’t use that particular pump and notify the store owner immediately.
  • If you are at an ATM machine, closely inspect the machine before using it. Try moving the card slot and key pad. If any of the parts move or look out of place, don't use that ATM.
  • Regularly review your account statements and use online banking to monitor transactions that are made with your credit and debit cards. Notify your bank immediately if there is an unauthorized transaction.
The bottom line: While previous pain at the pump in the way of high gas prices currently may be a memory of the past, many motorists are now reeling with a new kind of pain courtesy of skimming thieves. Like most fraud scams, the best protection is to be proactive. If you’re using an outside credit card reader, take a few extra moments to ensure it has not been tampered with before swiping. If something doesn’t seem right, contact the proper authorities.
For more insight on how to avoid skimming at gas pumps, ATMs, and other money machines, view these tips from the U.S. Department of the Treasury.