How to Protect Yourself From Credit Card Skimmers

by Christy Bieber | Updated July 21, 2021 - First published on May 6, 2019

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Credit card skimmers are machines that capture your credit card info. Follow these four tips to reduce the chances that thieves will get ahold of your card’s details.Image source: Getty Images.


Credit card skimmers are illegal devices that can be attached to ATM machines or to credit card processing machines. The skimmers collect data from the card’s magnetic strip. You’ll never know your card information has been compromised when you put your card into a machine with a skimmer -- and the card info can then be sold online or used by criminals to make purchases.

Having your credit card or debit card information stolen due to inserting your card into a machine with a skimmer can be really bad news. You don’t want your card’s information to fall into the wrong hands. But, if you don’t know these devices are there, how can you protect yourself from credit card skimmers?

While there’s no foolproof way to make sure that your card’s data is safe, these four tips can help you to reduce the chances that a skimmer will capture your info illicitly.

1. Know the types of credit card skimmers

Being armed with information can help you be on the lookout for the different types of credit card skimmers you need to avoid. As the FDIC explains, there are several different ways thieves can skim your card information including card reader overlays, hidden cameras, PIN capture overlays, and fake ATM faceplates.

Card reader overlays are plastic devices that fit over ATMs or credit card processing machines. They collect data when you insert your card and store it. Hidden cameras, on the other hand, are located near ATMs and are able to capture your card number and PIN number. PIN capture overlays fit over real ATM keypads to capture your pin number, while fake ATM faceplates are placed entirely over a fully functioning ATM to capture your card info and PIN.

2. Watch for signs of tampering

Once you know all the different kinds of skimmers that could capture your card’s info, it’s easier to be on the lookout for these devices.

You can spot skimmers by checking the ATM or card processing machine before inserting your card. If there are scratches around the opening that suggest it’s been tampered with or if you see odd plastic or other material that doesn’t look like it fits, this could be a sign of a skimmer.

Tiny holes in an ATM machine where a camera could be hidden are also something to watch out for, as are loose wires around an ATM machine.

3. Avoid ATMs in remote locations or credit card processing machines at shady businesses

If there’s an ATM in the middle of nowhere or a business that doesn’t seem to be on the up-and-up, there’s a greater chance that the ATM or company’s card processing machine may have been tampered with.

Skip putting your card into a machine where tampering is most likely to have occurred. Instead, go to crowded ATMs where someone would almost assuredly notice a thief tampering with the machine and inserting devices. Only use your credit card in places you trust where you know the management is less likely to hire unscrupulous people who’d install a skimmer on their card processor.

4. Check your credit and bank accounts regularly

Unfortunately, no matter how careful you are, there is always a risk that someone is going to get a hold of your credit card or ATM information that shouldn’t have it.

If your info falls into the wrong hands, you can address the problem much more easily if you contact your creditor or bank right away. Make it a point to check your accounts daily or at least several times a week. As soon as you notice a transaction you didn’t make, call your bank or card issuer and alert them to signs of fraud.

Protecting yourself from card skimmers is worth the effort

While it may take a little extra vigilance to protect yourself from thieves who want access to your credit card or ATM info, it’s worth it to make the effort. After all, you don’t want your card info to fall into the wrong hands, as theft of your card or ATM number can create a lot of hassle. By being cautious and looking for signs of trouble, you can often spare yourself this headache.

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