Man making a transaction at an ATM in the middle of two other ATMs

Card Skimming Scams


We’ve talked a lot about how to avoid scammers over the internet. Email, text, browser ‘pop-ups’, the list goes on and on!

Now we’re gong to review a very common scheme that you may encounter in your day-to-day life.

What is card-skimming?

Skimming occurs when criminals tamper with payment devices at places like gas stations, ATMS, or even at the point-of-sale (POS) machines inside stores! When you swipe your cards at these places, your card information and even PIN number can get immediately transferred to the scammer, allowing them to use your funds to make purchases.

Since the scammers can get your card information almost instantly, they will attempt to make purchases before you even realize that your information has been compromised!

Spotting a Card-Skimmer

Just like recognizing fraudulent tactics online, spotting physical signs of a scam can be just as difficult. On first glance, card-skimming devices can seem undetectable, but you can better protect yourself if you know what to look for!

One type of skimming device is placed over or inside a card reader, and captures your card information when you swipe or insert your card. Before you use your card, take a look at the card reader. Does it seem misaligned or like there is a cover on the top? If it seems a little off, compare the card reader to one at another station. If you are able to grab and move the outer cover of the card reader, that is a good indication that it has been tampered with! You may also see that it looks like something may already be inside the card reader if a skimming device has been installed.

Another type of skimming device targets your card PIN number. This can be a small camera that looks over the keypad, or a fake keypad that is laid on top of the real keypad, meant to capture you typing in your PIN. If the keypad at an ATM or gas station seems oddly new, be wary. It may be a card skimmer! Sometimes these skimming devices can also make pushing the button a little harder. If you find yourself having to forcefully hit the buttons on a keypad, it is best to use another station. Similar to the card reader devices, you can also try to pull up the edges of the keypad. If it comes loose, or reveals another keypad underneath, you’ve uncovered a skimming device!

Some gas stations also use security stickers on their pumps that cover up the panels. If the sticker is ripped or seems tampered with, that will let you know that the particular gas pump may have had a card skimming device attached.

an ATM keypad with a skimmer being peeled off the top of the buttons
a person testing the card reader of an ATM by pulling on it

Avoiding Card Skimming Scams

Here are a few tips you can use to help avoid card-skimming while making purchases.

  • If a device looks suspicious, don’t use it! Use the advice in the section above to discern whether an ATM, gas pump, or POS machine has been tampered with. If something seems a little off, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Try and use cash, pay inside (where the device is less likely to have been tampered with) or credit instead of debit. Credit cards typically offer better protection.
  • Set up alerts. Keep an eye on your accounts and set up alerts when you can. That way if your card is used by a criminal, you will be notified of the charge and can take the proper steps to protect your account.
  • Use official bank ATMs. While this is not always an option, try and use official bank ATMs instead of non-bank ATMs that can be found inside convenient stores, bars, or restaurants.
  • Hide your PIN. Use your hand to shield the keypad when typing in your PIN number. This can help block your PIN from view if there is a small camera installed at a device. Remember that this doesn’t stop skimming devices that cover the keypad!
  • Consider contactless paying. A digital wallet or contactless card is a great way to insure your information does not get stolen by a skimming device.


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