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It seems like news of new data breaches hits the airwaves almost weekly. “If my accounts and personal information aren’t safe at my favorite retailers and restaurants, where can I shop?” you may wonder.

Sure, you could switch to using only cash, but that method comes with its own potential pitfalls such as losing your money or not having enough cash in your wallet to make a necessary purchase. Yes, you could avoid retailers that have been effected by data breaches, but how do you know that the next place you shop will be any more immune to hackers?

Though you may never be completely protected from falling victim to a data breach, there are several easy steps you can take to make it more difficult for scammers to take your information by stealing your personal information.

Part 1 – Using a Passphrase

Part 2 – How to Spot and Avoid a Skimmer
Part 3 – Staying Secure Online


Person using an ATM

Part 2 – How to Spot and Avoid a Skimmer

Card skimming is a form of identity theft where criminals affix a skimming device, which closely mimics a true card reader, to the actual card reader. When a consumer swipes their card to make a purchase, the skimmer reads and saves the card information. Because the card passes through both the skimming device and the retailer’s card reader, the transaction is completed without issue and the consumer never realizes the fraud taking place right in front of them.

With the move to chip readers, criminals are now transitioning from skimmers to shimmers which are very small devices that are inserted into the chip reader. These shimmers are able to steal a card’s information which can then be used to clone a new magnetic strip card. The most concerning aspect of shimmers is that because they are in inside the machine, they are much harder to spot than a skimmer.

When you approach an ATM, gas pump, or any other card scanning device, check for anything that appears to be out of the norm. Look to see if the device appears to have been tampered with.

Signs of tampering Include:

  • The plastic is severely scratched or dented.
  • The various colors of plastic pieces on the machine do not match.
  • The graphics are inconsistent or aren’t aligned correctly.
  • The keyboard feels thicker or more padded than it should.
  • The card reader does not match the others around it.
  • After taking a careful look at the machine and its surroundings, wiggle the device to check for any loose parts. The machine should be solid and loose or rattling pieces can indicate tampering.

To decrease your likelihood of encountering a compromised device, choose gas pumps that are closest to the cashier’s booth and use ATMs that are located inside financial institutions or businesses rather than those on outdoor sidewalks.

You may also consider setting up your smart device to conduct digital wallet transactions such as Apple Pay, Android Pay, or Samsung Pay. With these forms of payment, you hover your smart device over the point-of-sale machine and you are able to pay without swiping your card.

Your personal information is never accessible through these transactions because the data is encrypted and changes often. Should a criminal attempt to steal your information through this type of transaction, they will receive a randomized 16-digit number that is in no way connected to your card number or bank account.

Even the most vigilant consumer may fall victim to a skimming operation, so it is important to continually monitor your accounts for potential fraud. Report any unauthorized transactions to your financial institution and the retailer as soon as you notice any suspicious activity.