credit card skimming

Lessons learned the hard way.

My phone went crazy yesterday with a *FRAUD ALERT* for the Mastercard I use most often.  Before I embark on the laborious process of getting a new card and changing the card number I have on file with vendors  – from Amazon and UBER to Apple and Netflix – I want you to know what I’ve learned so that you can avoid this trap.

I paid for gas with my credit card in Delray Beach, Florida at a Sunoco station (801 N. Federal Highway, in case you want to avoid it).  As a means of verifying my card, I was asked to type in my billing zip code.  Apparently, that is all perpetrators of fraud need.  Twenty-four hours later, someone tried to buy gas with a copy of my credit card at a Sunoco station 1,200 miles away, near my home.  I still had my credit card in my wallet in Florida. My card had been ‘skimmed’.

‘Skimming’ occurs when criminals use a device to steal information from a credit card when it is being used for a legitimate transaction.  The magnetic strip on your card stores your full name, card number and expiration date. Thieves can make charges online or they can create a counterfeit card.

Gas stations and stand-alone ATM’s are the most frequent sources of skimming. I am told that thieves are adding skimmers to retail store self-checkout stations.  If the transaction requires your pin, the crooks can position a hidden camera to record the numbers you type.  Take a good look at the next few credit card readers you use when you swipe your card and focus on the look of a legitimate reader. Note: Banks have better security and 24 hour cameras which would catch a thief installing a skimmer.

Lessons learned:

Use one credit card for all the companies with which you keep a card on file like Amazon, UBER, Netflix, and Apple.

Use a sperate card for vulnerable everyday purchases at places at risk for a skimmer. At least if your card gets skimmed, you simply need to replace it – not change the accounts at a lot of vendors with the card on file.

Be especially suspicious of credit card payments at gas pumps and getting cash from an ATM at the airport, grocery or convenience store  A Mastercard fraud specialist advises that we should look carefully at the physical payment system on the pump or ATM.  If the card slot looks different than the other pumps or ATM’s, avoid it.  It may include a ‘skimmer’.

Here are some signs that the credit card reader might be a skimmer:

The slot into which you place your credit card sticks out beyond the face of the payment panel.

A raised panel for the card slot and keyboard. Most real keypads are flat on the gas pump or ATM.  Thieves can place a fake keypad over the real one. If the pad is raised or keys are hard to push, move on.

If the payment slot at your gas pump looks different than those on other pumps, don’t use it.

If the credit card reader is loose or moves, don’t use it.  Someone may have tampered with it.

Look for an intact security seal on the gas pump.  These are usually red, blue or black. If the seal is broken, the words ‘Void Open’ appear in white.  Move on.

More precautions:

Shield the keypad with your hand when you type in your PIN.

Never allow a retail checkout clerk to ‘clean’ your magnetic strip.  They may be copying it.

For more additional privacy protection, you’ll be interested in this article;

Personal privacy online security

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