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How Credit Card Skimming Works

Thieves Use Credit Card Skimming to Steal Your Data

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Victims of credit card skimming are completely blindsided by the theft. They notice fraudulent charges on their accounts or money withdrawn from their accounts, but their credit and debit cards never left their possession. How did the theft occur?

How Credit Card Skimming Works

In credit card skimming schemes, thieves use a device to steal credit card information in an otherwise legitimate credit or debit card transaction. For example, credit card skimming devices are often placed on ATMs or even held in the hands of waiters and store employees. When a credit card is run through a skimmer, the device stores the credit card information. Thieves use the stolen data to make fraudulent charges either online or with a counterfeit credit card. In the case of ATM and debit cards, thieves withdraw cash from the linked checking account. Credit card skimmers are even popping up on Redbox movie rental kiosks.

Victims of credit card skimming are often unaware of the theft until they receive a billing statement or overdraft notices in the mail.

How to Prevent and Detect Credit Card Skimming

Credit card skimming incidents can be difficult to detect since the credit cards are never lost or stolen. The best way to detect a skimmed credit card is to watch your accounts frequently. Monitor your checking and credit card accounts online daily and immediately report any suspicious activity.

Watch where you shop. Restaurants, bars, and gas stations seem to be the places where credit card incidents happen most frequently. That's because cardholders are comfortable letting their cards leave their sight in these places. But, if you can't see your credit card, it could be getting skimmed.

Know how a credit card skimmer looks. NetworkWorld.com has a few pictures of credit card skimmers that demonstrates how difficult it is to detect the devices, which are becoming smaller and smaller.

Before using an ATM, make sure there aren't any devices attached to it. At ATMs, skimmers often place a camera within view of the keypad to steal your PIN. Or, they place a fake keypad on top of the real one to record your keystrokes. When you're using an ATM, cover your hand as you type your PIN to keep a camera from catching a view of what you're typing. If the keys seem hard to push, eject your card and use another ATM.

Don't become a victim of "credit card cleaning" scams, where thieves claim to clean the magnetic strip on your credit card. These thieves simply swipe your credit card through a credit card skimmer and take your credit card information.

How to Report a Credit Card Skimming Loss

Contact your creditor to let them know about the loss. Call first, then follow up in writing. Your maximum liability for charges on a stolen credit card is $50. If only your credit card information has been stolen, you won't be liable for any fraudulent charges.

Place a fraud alert on your credit report. This forces businesses to confirm your identity before approving applications in your name.

Alert the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). They often work to break up large credit card skimming rings. Your complaint will help catch the thieves.

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