Prevent credit card theft during the holiday season

With holiday shopping in full swing, many, if not most of us will be using our debit cards for transactions. That’s why many retailers have ATM machines in their place of business or an ATM machine is located close by. The problem is that scammers know this and want to take full advantage of this fact especially during the holiday season.

Skimming, or swiping your credit card on a hand-held reader, is one way they take advantage. The clerk may take your card and walk away, reach below the counter, or turn his or her back on you. It’s that fast, and only takes a second to run your credit card through the device.

The devices can also be planted on ATMs are usually undetectable by users—the makers of this equipment have become very adept at creating them, often from plastic or plaster, so that they blend right into the ATM’s façade. The specific device used is often a realistic-looking card reader placed over the factory-installed card reader. Customers insert their ATM card into the phony reader, and their account info is swiped and stored on a small attached laptop or cell phone or sent wirelessly to the criminals waiting nearby.

In addition, ATM skimming typically involves  a hidden camera, installed on or near an ATM, to record customers’ entry of their PINs into the ATM’s keypad. We have also seen instances where, instead of a hidden camera, criminals attach a phony keypad on top of the real keypad … which records every keystroke as customers punch in their PINs.

Skimming devices are installed for short periods of time — usually just a few hours — so they’re often attached to an ATM by nothing more than double-sided tape. They are then removed by the criminals, who download the stolen account information and encode it on to blank cards. The cards are used to make withdrawals from victims’ accounts at other ATMs.

  • Inspect the ATM, gas pump, or credit card reader before using it…be suspicious if you see anything loose, crooked, or damaged, or if you notice scratches or adhesive/tape residue.
  • When entering your PIN, block the keypad with your other hand to prevent possible hidden cameras from recording your number.
  • If possible, use an ATM at an inside site (less access for criminals to install skimmers).
  • Be careful of ATMs in tourist areas…they are a popular target of skimmers.
  • If your card isn’t returned after the transaction or after hitting “cancel,” immediately contact the financial institution that issued the card.

BBB has also heard of thieves using camera-phones to snap photos over the shoulders of unknowing shoppers as they handle or lay down the cards on top of merchandise at the counter. The thief may not get the pin or security number, but they can take the numbers and other identity from the card.

BBB suggest: Keep an eye on your card at all times during the holiday.

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