Skimmers & Identity Theft

While thieves will still physically steal your credit or debit card without a second thought, a new way of accessing your financial information—and more specifically, your money—is sweeping the world—called skimming.

What Is Skimming?

Skimming is the act of gaining access to a person's sensitive financial information; these days, generally it refers to using a skimmer device to access the person's debit or credit card information, including your:

  • Personal identification number (PIN).
  • Card verification number (CVN).
    • This is the 3-digit security code on the back of your debit or credit card.

Skimmers themselves are the methods or devices thieves use to illegally obtain your financial information when you're trying to complete an otherwise legal transaction.

When a debit or credit card is put through a skimmer device, the device collects and stores the card information. Thieves can use that information to make online purchases, withdraw money from your accounts, or commit other acts of fraud.

Examples of Skimmers

Overall, skimming isn't a new concept—it's just gotten more advanced.

An older method of skimming is photocopying receipts; however, thieves have now created actual tangible skimmer devices to retrieve the information.

These devices can take various forms depending on how the thief intends to use them, but generally they're installed over or around an actual legal device and are designed to either retrieve the information via the card's magnetic strip, or take a photo of the card itself.

Currently, perhaps the most common types of debit or credit card skimmers are those that can be attached to the swiping machines themselves—such as automatic teller machines (ATM) or pre-pay gas pumps.

How to Spot Skimmers

Again, skimmer devices vary in appearance, but some warning signs include any suspicious-looking keypad overlays or devices placed over the mouth of the machine that reads your card's magnetic strip.

Sometimes, an ATM skimmer will include a miniscule camera (not the typical large ones the bank installs) that takes photos of your card; this may or may not be visible, but it's a good idea to keep your eyes open for one just in case.

Too, a skimmer that has been improperly installed or has been in use for a while might become loose or even dislodge while you're using the machine. Whenever this happens, contact the bank, credit union, or other owner of the machine immediately.

Skimmers & Identity Theft

Naturally, skimmer victims are at risk for identity theft. People who use skimmers gain information about and access to your finances, and they sometimes even sell your information to other thieves.

Unfortunately, unless you discover the skimmer device and immediately take action, victims of debit and credit card skimmers generally aren't aware of the breach until you find inaccuracies in your bank or billing statements.

However, once you become aware, you can take immediate steps to both stop and rectify fraudulent transactions. State and federal laws have regulations in place specifically for identity theft protection. Refer to our page on Identity Theft & Your Rights for details about your rights as an identity theft victim, how to document and report theft, your financial loss limits and responsibilities, and more.

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