Losing your debit or credit card is a terrible feeling, but do you know what’s worse? When the money in those accounts are stolen from you. Over the last decade, countless people have suffered the “skimmer scam” and become victims of money theft – so much so that the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions and many others have released consumer alerts.
If the idea of skimming seems foreign or unrelated to you, don’t think you’re an exception. In 2008, people lost over $1 billion in ATM-related crimes.
What’s an ATM Skimming Device and How Does It Work?
Thieves will use sleek, hard-to-spot skimming devices to steal debit or credit card information and require two components: the counterfeit reader which scans and stores your card information and a tiny, unassuming camera on or around the ATM which records your personal PIN number. 
“When you slide your card into the ATM, you’re unwittingly sliding it through the counterfeit reader, which scans and stores all the information on the magnetic strip… [The] tiny spy cameras are positioned to get a clear view of the keypad and record all the ATM’s PIN action.” 
The thieves producing or purchasing these skimming devices know they will work so long as they aren’t spotted and removed. This is largely due to the fact that they’re designed to mimic the real thing and fit perfectly snug over the existing card slot. (Just check out the video above if you haven’t already…)
ATM Skimmer Fraud Continues to Soar
But where? You won’t see it happening in actual banks, but any ATM machine can ultimately be used – fast food restaurants, convenience stores, airports, gas stations, you name it. On March 7, 2018, data analytics company FICO even reported a 10% increase in compromised debit cards as a result of U.S. ATM skimming devices. 
In Florida, for example, inspectors have noticed a huge increase in ATM skimmers at gas stations. They found 220 in 2016, 650 in2017, and are on pace to find about 1,000 in 2018…  and that’s only in one state. So, if you’re wondering how big the risk is, take it from the National Association for Convenience Stores: 
- Every day, 37 million Americans refuel their vehicles
- Of them, 29 million pay for fuel with a debit or credit card
- When ATM skimming occurs at a gas station, it usually takes place at only one pump
- In a single day, a compromised pump can capture data from 30 to 100 cards
5 Ways to Protect Yourself from ATM Card Skimmers
While there is no foolproof way of avoiding this crime, there are a few things you have the power to do. We’ve listed a few of the best ones below. [2,5,6]
- Look around. In addition to being aware of your surroundings, look at the ATM machine you’re about to use. If the keypad is protruding oddly from the surface around it or if there are any differences in color (e.g., different shades of grey), be safe and avoid the machine. If it’s gas you bought, pay the human teller even if it’s a bit more inconvenient.
- Use your fingers. Check once with your eyes and once more with your hands. Give the ATM card reader a wiggle to see if it’s loose. That’s usually a good sign that someone has tampered with it.
- Choose gas pumps closest to a physical building. Thieves are less likely to attach an ATM skimming device right in front of the cashier’s building. Minimizing risk in these situations is key, even if you have to wait a couple of cars to get gas.
- Cover your pin. When paying, use your free hand to cover your pin not only from people, but the tiny camera that may be installed on or around the ATM machine in use.
- Check your bank account statements. It’s just a good habit. Checking your statements regularly will help you really know if something ever goes wrong. If something does, you’ll be able to report the suspicious activity within 24 hours.
We hope these tips and tricks help protect you from ATM skimmers. Unfortunately, they do exist, so the best thing you can do is use (and share) your knowledge keeps you, your friends, and your family safe.
 Here’s What A Card Skimmer Looks Like On An ATM. (2009, April 19). Retrieved from https://consumerist.com/2009/04/heres-what-a-card-skimmer-looks-like-on-an-atm.html
 Fenlon, W. (2010, November 08). How does ATM skimming work? Retrieved from https://money.howstuffworks.com/atm-skimming.htm
 FICO Data: 10 Percent More Debit Cards Were Compromised in U.S. Last Year | FICO®. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.fico.com/en/newsroom/10-percent-more-debit-cards-were-compromised-in-us-last-year
 Roustan, W. K. (2018, April 13). Credit card skimmers at Florida gas pumps are becoming harder to stop. Retrieved from http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/transportation/fl-reg-gas-pump-skimmers-20180411-story.html
 Ladika, S. (n.d.). Gas pump and ATM skimmers: How to spot and avoid them. Retrieved from https://www.creditcards.com/credit-card-news/gas-pump-atm-skimmers.php
[6, image] Beware of ATM Skimming Devices. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://dfi.wa.gov/consumer/alerts/beware-atm-skimming-devices
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