In 2016, thieves no longer wear black-and-white striped shirts and face masks like they did in old cartoons. No, today's thieves may never even be seen by their victims. Instead, they set up technologically advanced traps for unsuspecting people to walk into, stealing large sums of money in the process.
One of the most dangerous and effective ways they do this is through ATM skimmers. Skimmers first arose in the early 2000s, but were considered to be nothing more than a rumor by the authorities. Apparently, thieves would attach a card reader onto an ATM and use it to steal your credit card info without you realizing it. It seemed like nothing more than paranoia, but, as more and more reports started to pour in, we had no choice but to take them seriously.
Now, skimmers have continued to evolve, growing more efficient and harder to detect. Just this past March, there were multiple reports of skimmers being used at gas stations in Alabama. Continue reading to learn more about this serious threat and everything you can do to protect yourself.
This is an Automated Teller Machine, or ATM. They've been around since the 1960s and are incredibly useful for withdrawing cash from your bank account when the bank is closed or your branch isn't nearby. Unfortunately, criminals have started using something called a "skimmer" to steal your information without you even realizing it. Here's how they do it ...
Skimmers come in all shapes and sizes. They're discreet pieces of plastic that go on top of the card-reader slot on an ATM. If you didn't know any better, you'd think it was a normal part of the machine.
Inside each skimmer is a second card reader that steals your info from the magnetic strip on your card as it enters the scanner. Pretty sneaky, huh?
Card readers can be small, but they can also be large enough to cover up and replace entire portions of the ATM.
But hey, so what? Sure, the thieves have scanned the magnetic strip on your card, but they won't get very far without your PIN. That's where cameras come in.
Larger skimmers provide more room to hide cameras that record your PIN as you input it. Sometimes there's no evidence of these other than a small dot.
Scammers will even go so far as to install cameras on brochure holders and other unlikely places.
Instead of hidden cameras, some skimmers use PIN pad overlays that look and feel exactly like a real one. The only difference? They record your PIN as you type it in. These have been mostly phased out in favor of hidden cameras, though.
"But what if my card has a chip?" Many people have made the switch to EMV cards that use a computer chip instead of the classic magnetic strip. While this does protect you in some cases, there are still plenty of areas that do not yet support chips and require you to swipe your magnetic strip.
If you think that ATMs are your only worry, you should know that skimmers have also been spotted at gas stations.
So, what can you do to protect yourself against skimmers? First, keep your eyes peeled for anything that looks off around the card scanner. For example, this one is a little too close to the arrows below it, indicating that it might be a skimmer in disguise.
Second, always protect your PIN, even if there aren't other people around. Simply cover the pad with your free hand to guard it against any cameras that may be creeping on your info.
Third, avoid ATMs that look downright sketchy. Unless it's an emergency and you need cash that instant, it's probably best to wait until you are back at a familiar ATM.
In the meantime, banks and government officials are taking precautions to stop skimmers from stealing your hard-earned money. This ATM from Japan features a palm scanner in addition to regular security features. Unless thieves plan on also stealing your right hand, they're out of luck.
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