Sometimes when I look at technology news reports on one of the national TV networks, I imagine they’re talking about things that can’t reach us here in Sowega. Fact is we are part of a global network (The Internet) and security problems that affect people in New York or London or Moscow can rear their heads here as well. I wrote about botnets and zombie computers last week with a background of having seen these phenomena here locally. I regularly see fake emails purportedly written by banks or ISPs asking for personal information in an attempt to steal someone’s identity.
But, I really didn’t think I would be writing a column about credit card skimming any time soon. However, one of the local TV stations did a report last week and the BBB in Columbus recently issued a warning bulletin and the Tifton Gazette reported just over a week ago a rash of incidents of skimming. That’s too close for comfort!
So, let’s get up to speed about skimming and what we can do to keep from being victims. Skimming is the illegal act of copying the information off the magnetic strip of a credit or debit card and then using it to defraud the card holder by making unauthorized purchases or withdrawing money from an ATM. There are two basic ways to accomplish this from the thief’s standpoint. A dishonest employee can take your card and run it through a skimming device hidden in his pocket or out of sight of you and then use the info to make illegal charges of his own.
More commonly, the skimming device is placed over the actual card reader or adjacent to it so that while you are conducting a legitimate transaction, the skimmer is recording your data at the same time. Sometimes a micro camera is also mounted nearby so that the crooks can capture your PIN as you type it on the touch pad. Skimming is often accomplished at ATMs inside stores, at gas pumps or other places outside of a secure bank environment. Google “credit card skimmer” to see an actual picture of one of these illegal devices.
Once your personal data is stolen, depending on the sophistication of the thieves (or thieve ring), they can make purchases or withdrawals or create duplicate credit cards and sell them. With the latter method, the real perps can be miles away before the actual illegal purchases start.
What can you do to avoid being skim-scammed? Here’s a few suggestions gleaned from the BBB, bank alerts and other security bulletins.
- Avoid ATMs not at a bank
- Cover the touch pad with your other hand while keying in your PIN
- Never leave a stuck card in an ATM , report it and stay until Police arrive
- Monitor your bank accounts daily
- Memorize your PIN, don’t write in on the card
- Do not give your PIN over the phone to anyone
And remember, report all suspicious activity to your bank and to police.