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Watch Out For Card Skimmers!

Person using ATM machine

What Is A Skimmer?

A card skimmer “skims” or collects payment card information from a legitimate card reading device, such as an ATM, gas station pump, or point-of-sale terminal. Skimmers can be attached to the legitimate card reader in various ways, often to the card slot or card feed mechanism. Skimmers can even collect card info without interrupting a transaction, so an ATM may still work normally as a card passes through the skimmer. Thieves then collect the skimmed data remotely or in person and use your card information for fraudulent transactions, or sell it to other fraudsters.

Are Chip Cards Safe?

While using a chip card for a transaction is a safe, secure payment method, most chip cards still include a magnetic strip for use with non-chip terminals. Inserting your card into a chip reader equipped with a pass-through skimmer could allow thieves to read the card’s magnetic strip data. Fraudsters have also been known to use “shimmers” to capture chip card details with a thin “shim” device that fits into a chip-reading card slot.

How Can You Spot A Skimmer?

Because skimming requires you to put your card into or through the skimming device, be on the lookout for suspicious devices attached to a card reader. Criminals are also after your PIN, so many skimming schemes include hidden cameras or fake PIN keypads on the ATM. You can spot a skimmer by watching out for anything that looks like it doesn’t belong on the ATM or card reader.

For example, odd or mismatched colors, loose parts, or partially covered pieces could be an indication that a skimming device is present. Many ATMs also have lighted card readers, so an unlighted card slot could mean a skimming device was installed over the top of the lighted slot. These differences can be quite difficult to spot, but sometimes you can feel when things aren’t right. When in doubt, give things a wiggle – ATMs generally feel rock-solid, with no loose parts. Keypads should feel securely attached and not unusually thick or thin.

How Else Can You Protect Yourself?

Besides looking out for physical skimming devices, there are several practices that can help you avoid being a skimming victim. One of the simplest things you can do is cover your keystrokes when entering your PIN, which will prevent any hidden cameras from spying on your PIN entry. Another related tip is to use an indoor ATM in a busy area or inside the lobby of your credit union’s office. Criminals are less likely to place skimmers on a busy indoor ATM or an ATM inside a credit union office because of all the cameras and people that are watching.

At a minimum, you should also be sure to use the chip feature of your card instead of the magnetic stripe whenever you can, because chip attacks are much less common. You can also consider using digital wallet services or contactless payments at point-of-sale terminals. These “tap” transactions tokenize your information and ensure your card data cannot be compromised from a skimming attack.

Another preventive measure is signing up for real-time alerts. If your account information is compromised, early detection is key to limiting the damage. Royal Credit Union’s real-time alerts can be set up to send you a text message, email, or smartphone notification in seconds any time a transaction occurs on your account.

You can also temporarily freeze your debit or credit card to prevent transactions right from online banking or our mobile app, so if you do get an alert for activity you don’t recognize, it’s easy to shut off your card while you sort things out. In addition, Royal’s fraud detection system sends out text message fraud alerts, asking you to verify suspicious activity. Our system is more likely to send this type of alert if you are using your Royal card outside of your normal spending area, so be sure to watch your mobile phone while traveling.

Royal ATMs Include Anti-Skimming Features

ATM manufacturers continue to introduce new anti-skimming technology to keep up with fraudsters. Royal Credit Union’s own ATMs all include anti-skimming features. However, our shared network of ATMs may not include this technology, so it’s wise to be on the lookout for anything unusual and take the above steps to minimize your risks.

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