How does a skimmer work?
A skimmer is a device used by criminals to steal credit card information from unsuspecting victims. It is typically placed on top of or inside legitimate card-reading devices, such as ATMs, gas pumps, or point-of-sale terminals, to secretly record the data from the magnetic stripe of a credit or debit card. This stolen data is then used to create counterfeit cards or for other fraudulent purposes.
The basics of skimming technology
Skimmers work by capturing the information stored on the magnetic stripe of a card, which contains the cardholder’s name, card number, expiration date, and other relevant information. The skimming device is designed to be discreet and blend in with the legitimate card reader, making it difficult for victims to detect its presence.
There are different types of skimmers, including:
- Overlays: These are placed on top of the legitimate card reader and are often designed to match the appearance of the original device. They capture the card data as it passes through the skimmer.
- Inserts: These are inserted into the card slot of a card reader, making it difficult to detect. They typically include a mechanism to trap the card momentarily, allowing the skimmer to read the data off the magnetic stripe.
- Wiretaps: These devices are attached to the wires inside the card reader, intercepting the data being transmitted between the card and the terminal.
- Bluetooth skimmers: These more advanced skimmers use Bluetooth technology to wirelessly transmit the stolen data to the criminals’ devices, eliminating the need for physical retrieval.
How skimmers obtain cardholder data
Skimmers can obtain cardholder data in a variety of ways. The most common method is by using a small magnetic strip reader that is covertly inserted into a legitimate card reader. This reader reads the data from the magnetic stripe of the card as it is swiped, allowing the criminals to collect the information.
In some cases, skimmers may also use a pinhole camera or a keypad overlay to capture the victim’s PIN code. Combined with the cardholder’s data, this information allows the criminal to create a counterfeit card and use it for fraudulent activities.
Preventing skimming attacks
While it can be difficult to detect skimmers, there are steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Inspect the card reader: Look for any signs of tampering, such as loose components, unusual attachments, or mismatched colors. Pay attention to the keypad as well, as overlays may be placed on top to capture your PIN.
- Use secure ATMs and payment terminals: Stick to well-lit, high-traffic areas and use ATMs or payment terminals located inside banks or other trusted establishments. Criminals are more likely to target devices in remote or unmonitored locations.
- Shield your PIN: When entering your PIN, use your hand or other object to cover the keypad. This can prevent hidden cameras or overlays from capturing your code.
- Monitor your accounts: Regularly review your bank and credit card statements for any unauthorized transactions. Report any suspicious activity immediately.
- Consider contactless payment methods: Using contactless payment options, such as mobile wallets or chip-enabled cards, can reduce the risk of skimming as they do not rely on magnetic stripe technology.
Reporting skimming incidents
If you suspect that you have encountered a skimming device, it is important to report it to the proper authorities. Contact your local police department or the organization responsible for the compromised device, such as the bank or gas station. Providing detailed information can help in the investigation and prevention of future skimming incidents.