I was having lunch and checking my bank account online one day recently when I realized that several hundred dollars had been removed through an ATM transaction two days earlier. My credit card was still in my wallet but somehow, someone removed money from my bank account (using my PIN) and didn’t need to snatch my purse to do so. It’s likely that a skimmer was attached to some type of credit card machine that I used recently and my information had been obtained.
A skimmer, for those unfamiliar, is a card reader that is attached by a thief to a credit card machine. The reader obtains information from the credit card which is then used to create a new credit card. Typically, a camera is placed over the skimmer so that the PIN entry may also be recorded. Gas stations and ATMs are popular spots for skimmers.
So how can you prevent this from happening to you? Here’s my list of top ten ways to avoid credit card fraud:
1. This is the obvious one: NEVER GIVE YOUR PIN TO ANYONE.
2. Make sure nothing is attached to the ATM machine before you use it. Look out for bright colors and loose parts.
3. Use your hand as a shield when entering your PIN at an ATM.
4. If you need to use an ATM, try to use one in the lobby of a bank or directly outside of the bank. Avoid generic ATMs at festivals, gas stations and small markets as much as possible.
5. If you deposit checks by snapshot on phone, make sure your phone has great virus protection. Always remember to pay attention to the access that you grant to apps when downloading them. If an app is asking for permission to access your contacts, microphone, camera, photos or SD card data, ask yourself: Is this required for the app to perform properly? Is there a comparable app that needs less permission?
6. Check your bank account statement at least once a week for suspicious activity.
7. Use cash when buying gas. Gas stations are a prime target for thieves who install skimmers. A lot of times the attendant may be distracted while the device is being attached. If you prefer to use a credit card because of the incentives associated with gas and grocery purchases, walk inside and use your card. You’ll also get the benefit of exercise.
8. A lot of people do this, so I’ll address it: Don’t store your passwords and PINs in an email or electronic note titled “Passwords.” If your computer is hacked, thieves won’t have to search hard for the golden nugget. Give the document a more mundane title, such as “Grocery list,” “To-do’s” or “Granny’s recipes.”
9. As ANNOYING as it is, change your passwords often. Make sure to use characters, capital letters and many symbols in your passwords.
10. Try to use cash at restaurants. When you think about it, your card is out of sight for a few minutes and, unfortunately, you can’t trust everyone. There have been instances where servers carry skimmers in their apron and obtain credit card information. The chance of this happening may be slim, but the chance exists.
If you have some extra time, check out www.krebsonsecurity.com. It has a lot of useful information, including pictures of skimmers and what to look out for when using an ATM.
This isn’t about living in fear of electronics but doing things to make it a little harder for thieves to access your hard-earned cash.