Being vigilant is always the best way to protect yourself with regards to privacy and protecting your important information, like debit and credit card pins and account numbers. With the news coming out of Calgary that a customer at a gas pump found a ‘skimming machine’ on the pump, I thought it would be a good idea to explain what a skimming machine is and how it works.
A skimming machine is a device used by individuals who are trying to gain access to your bank account information, debit or credit card, through the use of technology that captures the data from the magnetic strip. Most skimming machines are placed over top of the original card reader, whether it is at a gas pump or even an ATM. They look identical to the original card reader and so they can be difficult to spot. Credit card fraud is a roughly 12 million dollar industry in Canada, and while that is down considerably from roughly 140 million in 2009 it is still a big problem. So how do you spot skimming machines?
Always do a quick check for tampering. If you are taking money out of your regular ATM at your local branch, you are no doubt familiar with how the machine looks and operates. Do a quick check around the screen, keyboard and card reader for any signs of tampering. If something doesn’t look right there is no harm in double checking with a teller. The same goes for any ATM; they all tend to work in a similar manner so if something seems off, don’t use it and notify someone immediately.
Skimming machines usually sit on top of the original card readers and are not securely fastened. Therefore, if you touch the card reader and it moves or feels loose that would be considered unusual. ATM machines are well built so if anything seems loose, that would signal a red flag for me.
Always assume someone is watching. Maybe someone is not physically standing over your shoulder, but observing through the use of micro cameras and transmitters. Whenever you are using your debit or credit card, always protect your pin. You might be in the middle of a store and no one is in sight, but that doesn’t mean that someone isn’t trying to watch. Even if you don’t notice anything unusual with the ATM itself, always cover your pin with your hand.
By remaining vigilant you will significantly reduce the likelihood of having your card information stolen. But always be aware of the credit card and bank statements. If something looks abnormal or you see a purchase you didn’t make, the sooner you report that to your bank the better.