It's genius, totally evil, and hides in plain sight. Most people have never heard of an ATM skimmer before, but unless you know what to look for you could fall victim to one.
The FBI and Secret Service have been warning the public about these devices as they become more common across the country.
The basic idea behind an ATM skimmer is that something has been added to the machine to steal your credit card number and PIN. While they're most commonly found on bank ATMs, they've also been spotted on gas pumps and regular credit card readers.
These flimsy little devices are surprisingly profitable for the crooks who set them up. A pair of brothers in New York netted more than $1 million by attaching skimmers to ATM machines in 2010.
And the risk of having your identity stolen is even greater if you haven't switched to a chip card yet (as many as 55% of Americans haven't).
Thankfully, once you know what to look for, this scam is easy to avoid.
While criminals do their best to make their skimmers invisible, there's a handful of common types that are easy to spot.
First, criminals will attach a phony card reader on top of the real thing. This device allows them to read the information on your card's magnetic strip. Some criminals will even attach a phony keypad to record your PIN.
But another common type of skimmer is the hidden camera. These devices blend in with the machine's regular security devices, but are used to tape your PIN.
Here are tips from the FBI to help you avoid getting scammed by these machines:
- First things first: check your bank statement regularly so you can spot any unusual transactions.
- Take a moment to jiggle the ATM parts, including the screen, key pad, and card reader. None of these parts should feel loose.
- Be on the lookout for signs that someone has opened the gas pump or ATM.
- Skimmers are often attached with double-sided tape, so be wary of machines with tape residue on any parts.
- Be smart about the machine you use: ones inside a business or close to the front door are safer than isolated machines.
- Always cover your PIN with your hand.
Let's teach everyone how to spot these sneaky devices!