Credit card skimmers are a scary thing. They are incredibly easy to set up, merely requiring a magnetic strip reader and a word processor. Some of our readers may have had to cancel their credit cards after fraudulent charges appeared on their accounts. In today’s post, we wanted to give some more insight into how skimmers work and what to look out for.

Skimmers: What are they?

Credit card skimmers are malicious card readers that are attached to payment terminals. They will harvest data from every person who uses their card. Once the thief has the information, they can create clones of your card to rack up charges or break into your account to steal your money. Skimmers usually do not affect the operation of an ATM or payment reader, making them difficult to detect.

Most people may think that since they have been issued a card with an EMV chip, they are safe. Unfortunately, some cards will still have a magnetic strip that will contain information in the event the chip doesn’t work, or the merchant doesn’t have a chip reader.

If you use an ATM frequently, the skimmer will be a small device that will sit on top of the area where you insert your card. Scammers may even install a hidden camera nearby to record the victim’s PINs. Other scammers will put a fake keypad over the real one to record the PINs. Other card readers can host skimmers. Check out the video below to see how easy it is to install one.


While the US only introduced chip cards in recent years, they have been used worldwide for some time. While the chips provide more security than the magnetic strips, thieves have figured out attacks for these as well.

Shimmers are small devices that sit inside the card reader. Most of these are thin pieces of plastic with integrated circuits that retain the data that is on the chip. These are much harder to detect. Manufacturers created more robust designs for their ATMs. If something other than the card has been inserted, it will be detected. Since the threat is continually evolving, it is worth taking a few seconds to check the ATM before using it.

Look Out For Tampered Devices

When you use an ATM check for oblivious signs tampering. Check near the top, around the speakers, or and hidden corners in the top area for cameras. Also, check around the card reader. If the material is a different color or it seems too thick, it might have a skimmer on it. Make sure that the graphics aren’t covered or look out of place as well. These rules can also apply to the card readers found in many major retailers.

If you use the ATM at a bank, there is likely to be more then one available. Compare the ATM you are using to another. For example, if one has a flashing light around the area where you insert your debit card, but another doesn’t it is likely there is skimmer on it. Most skimmers would block these types of indicators. It the keyboard feels tough to use, there may be a PIN snatcher on top of it.

Wiggle It!

Before you use the ATM pull and push the various components, since ATMs are mostly unmanned safes, they are built very securely. If there are loose pieces on the ATM, it could be a sign that it has been tampered with. For the card skimmers to work, they need to be able to read the strip in a single motion. If your ATM collects the card, then returns it after the transaction is complete, the skimmer will not be able to read the magnetic strip. The video below shows what these devices may look like when installed on an ATM.

Things To Consider

Scammers will choose ATMs that aren’t in busy locations. They will not be as likely to be caught when installing and collecting the data from the skimmer. Banks and grocery stores are less likely to be hit but are in no means immune to the practice. Bold scammers will still install them in these places.

The odds of your information being stolen are higher on the weekend than during the week. Credit card skimmers can be installed on bank ATMs on Friday and collected on Sunday before the bank reopens.

Be extra vigilant at gas stations. Many pumps still are not compatible with chip cards, and even, require you to slide or insert your card. Scammers can access these pumps without being detected. Pay the cashier directly if you are concerned about skimmers on the pumps.

Be Alert

As long as you report any theft in a timely fashion, the credit card company or bank will not hold you liable for the charges. It may take a few days, but your money will be returned. Business or company cards don’t always have the same protection, and it may be harder to get your money back. Talk to a bank representative or check your business credit card policies to see how fraud cases work.

Since a debit card is an immediate transfer of cash, it may be safer to use a credit card. Credit transactions can be reversed or frozen at any time, which puts pressure on the merchants to make sure their POS systems are secure.

Another thing to consider is that we are ignoring our phone calls more and more with the rise of robocalls. Your bank or credit card company will notify you immediately if they detect any fraudulent charges. The quicker you respond, the faster you can stop the attack.

Lastly, if you plan on going on a trip out of the state or country notify your financial institutions. This will prevent your card and accounts from being frozen during your travel. These institutions are becoming more vigilant for fraud, so if they see your card being used in another state or country, they may shut it down.

If you found this article interesting or helpful, check out our other posts!