Get the skinny on skimmers to protect your credit and debit accounts


Close-up of a fan of credit cards

Can you spot a card skimmer? Learn to identify the signs of card reader tampering when you pay-at-the-pump and use ATMs.

Skimming is another name for theft of credit and debit account information – and it can happen without you knowing it! Here’s how you can be vigilant against this kind of data theft.

Know how skimmers work

Thieves place electronic devices that “skim” account information from your card’s magnetic stripe. Some use pinhole cameras to capture your PIN as well. The devices are placed directly over the readers and keypads you normally use.

At the gas pump, skimming devices may also be placed behind the card reader panel.

Your card passes through the skimmer first and then the legitimate reader. As you insert your card to process your transaction as intended, the skimmer steals your account information.

Common places thieves target are gas pumps and ATMs. Machines that are blocked from an attendant’s view are more susceptible to tampering.

How to spot a skimmer

  • If there is another point-of-sale unit or ATM nearby, does the one you’re using look the same? If they don’t match, don’t use either machine.
  • Is the color of the reader slightly “off”? Does the reader or keypad stick out more than usual? Do these parts wiggle? These are red flags that a skimmer may be present.
  • At the pump, look closely at the security seals. Has the seal been broken? Has it been removed and replaced with a fake? Become familiar with what the seals should look like. Choose pumps that are in full view of the cashier; they are less likely targets for data thieves.
  • Take look at these photos supplied by the FTC to see pictures of card skimmers and evidence of pump seal tampering.
  • When you have the option to select debit or credit, select credit so you don’t risk exposing your PIN.
  • Trust your gut. If anything seems off, go inside to complete your transaction. Be sure to let the gas station or the financial institution know that you suspect a skimmer is in place.

Detecting Bluetooth skimmers

According to the Minnesota Attorney General, you can use your smartphone to detect a skimmer. Activate your phone’s Bluetooth function; if you see a long string of numbers trying to connect to your phone, that’s a sign of a skimmer close by.

Android apps are also available to detect skimmers operating with Bluetooth. We couldn’t locate data to verify how well these apps work but they could provide added peace of mind.

We’re looking out for you

Consumers is proactive in keeping our members and ATMs safe from skimmers. Anti-skimming technology built into our ATMs keeps you safe from this kind of theft.

If you suspect something unusual or suspicious about an ATM, we urge you to call us right away at 1-800-991-2221. Or, connect with us on social media.

Federally insured by NCUA

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