What to Know About Skimmers, Shimmers and Card Security
We talk a lot about keeping your financial information safe and secure online. But what about when you’re doing business in the real world? Do you just assume your transactions are secure? Unfortunately, they’re not. Any time money changes hands — whether in person or online —there are thieves and scammers ready to insert themselves in the process. Here’s what to look for, and how to keep your financial information safe, when using credit and debit cards offline.
Have You Heard of Skimmers and Shimmers?
These are devices thieves install on point-of-purchase card readers and ATMs to harvest customers’ data. Once they have the information, they can create clone accounts and conduct fraudulent transactions, or sell the data to those who will.
- Skimmers collect data from the magnetic strip on a card
- Shimmers get the data from the chip on the front of the card
Additionally, skimmers will often be accompanied by a tiny camera placed nearby to collect video of customers entering their PIN numbers.
Here’s How to Spot Them
We’ll start with skimmers, which are placed externally and have many tell-tale warning signs to let you know they’re there. When you are using a card reader or ATM, look for:
- Any obvious signs of tampering
- Loose or jiggling parts; it should feel sturdy and solid
- Mismatched colors or materials
- Misplaced stickers or signs; misspelled words
Also, the keypad should be easy to use and feel responsive. If the buttons are hard to press or it feels bulky, it could be an overlay designed to capture your PIN.
What About Shimmers?
While skimmers can be easy to spot if you know what to look for, shimmers aren’t. That’s because they are just small, integrated circuits placed on very thin pieces of plastic and hidden inside a card reader or ATM. If your card information is stolen via skimmer, you will not be liable for the fraudulent charges, but disputing those charges and cleaning up your account will take some time.
Where to Look for Them
Surveillance video has caught thieves installing skimmers and shimmers in almost every imaginable location, but some spots are more prone to having them. Outdoor ATMs or card readers are at higher risk for tampering, along with ‘self-checkout’ card readers at grocery and big box stores.
Everyday Safety Tips
While security experts and thieves are in a constant race to outsmart one another, there are some simple things you can do to help protect your financial information, including,
- Using cash to pay whenever possible
- Using indoor bank ATMs or going to the teller to withdraw cash
- Always checking ATMs or card readers for signs of tampering
- Signing up for text and email fraud alerts from your bank and credit card companies
- Reviewing bank and credit card statements for fraudulent activity