3 tips to help you avoid credit card skimmers

Search with Ctrl + F Last updated: 2022-07-28

Everyone is always so worried about shopping online… that one innocent purchase on the wrong site will lead to your eventual financial downfall.  A hacker will spin his web, and swing from the darkest corners of the web – bigger and better than Spiderman ever could.  He’ll swoop up your data, and use it to travel the world.  He’ll buy a fancy car and an even fancier house.  And meanwhile, you’re left to squat on some dark, dank corner in the middle of nothing good and no one nice.

And unfortunately, you should be worried about all of that.  Not that anyone will be able to buy a house or travel the world equipped with nothing but your credit card data – but they might buy a really fancy pair of shoes.  But things get more unfortunate because that’s not the only thing you should be worried about.  In fact, some identity theft experts say there’s something else you should worry about more than online identity theft…

Credit card skimmers.

It takes a skilled criminal less than 60 seconds to install a nearly undetectable credit card skimmer on an ATM machine.  Once this minute is up, anyone who swipes their card on this machine will be placed on a one-way path headed straight towards identity theft.  Not only can a thief swipe your credit card number, but they can swipe your pin number, as well, making this data fully operational and incredibly valuable.

But if you caught it earlier, a credit card skimmer is nearly undetectable.  In other words, if you pay close enough attention to the machine itself, you have the opportunity to sniff out a credit card skimmer before it ever has the chance to skim your credit card.  You just have to know what to look for.

Loose Parts

Many sources say it’s a useful habit to pull and prod at any ATM machine you visit.  Yes.  You’re going to look really strange doing this.  But looking strange for a few minutes is a whole lot better than dealing with credit card fraud.

Most credit card skimmers are attached to the top or front of an ATM machine.  It might be glued on, but most likely, it’s simply clipped onto the device or attached to the card reader.  For this reason, you should pull on the pin pad and tug at the card reader (or any other parts that stick out).  Make sure nothing wiggles or looks like it could potentially come off.  If anything does appear to move, do not use that machine.

Strange Colors

Take a look at the entire machine and consider the colors.  If you’re around multiple ATM machines or if you’re at the gas station using the pump, compare your machine to the other ones.  This can be a dead giveaway – for example, your card reader has red material surrounding it but none of the other ones do.  That’s a sign your machine has been messed with.

However, if there’s only one ATM machine, you’ll have to use your best judgement.  Say there is red material surrounding the card reader, and you can’t tell for certain if it goes with the machine or not.  This is when you should pull at the card reader and see if the red casing moves.  And keep in mind, just because it doesn’t move, doesn’t mean it’s supposed to be there.  If you’re at all hesitant, then find another ATM machine at a different location.

Hidden Graphics

If someone affixes something to an ATM machine, there’s a chance that certain graphics on the machine might be partially hidden because of it.  This is good, because it can help you identify ATMs that have been tampered with.

Oftentimes, ATM manufacturers will put graphics on the machine to serve as directions – arrows, dots, text, images.  If any of these graphics are concealed by parts of the machine, then these “parts” might not belong there.