I can vividly remember the day last summer when my wife and I were walking into a movie at the theater when I received a phone call from an unknown number.
I decided to listen to the voice message before we went in for the show. As I heard the words “your bank account has suspicious activity on it,” I got a little worried but figured Bank of America simply didn’t like one of the transactions we had made earlier. So, I quickly took a look at our checking account transactions on the Bank of America iPhone app. That’s when my stomach shot up into my throat and my heart started racing. I saw two $1,000 deductions from our account for a shady sounding website that we definitely didn’t buy anything from. Our bank account had been compromised, and we were devastated.
The bank told us that the transactions were made using my debit card number. However, the strange thing is that my debit card number was never lost or stolen. Luckily, Bank of America was great about the whole situation and, since you are never liable for unauthorized transactions in your bank account, the money was put back in our account within three business days.
No one ever confirmed this, but given the number of incidences in Orlando over the past year, I am convinced that my debit card was skimmed. I can’t pinpoint where exactly it happened, but I have no other explanation since we rarely buy things online, and no websites have our debit card number stored.
How Card Skimming Happens
Here are four of the most likely ways that your credit or debit card can be skimmed:
- ATMs – An ATM skimming device is used and fits over the real ATM card reader slot. ATM users do not know their information is being intercepted as their card is inserted into the false reader.
- Gasoline Pumps – This skimming device is installed inside a gas pump in minutes and is not visible to users. A gas pump key can fit pump housings in multiple stations, allowing for quick and easy access. I think this could have been where my card was skimmed. I get gas in a lot of tourist areas around Orlando where criminals are more likely to go after the pumps.
- Handheld Devices - Someone can take your credit card and quickly record the information with a swipe on these small devices. There were two different cases in Orlando recently of waitresses at restaurants swiping cards with these handheld machines. They were being paid a nominal, flat fee for every card they recorded by a middle man who was then selling them on the black market for big money. Think about it, when you send your credit or debit card off with a restaurant server, it’s one of the only times your card is out of your sight and not in your possession.
- Keystroke Loggers – This device can be attached to public-use computers, like those found at the library, or credit card point-of-sale devices to record passwords and other personal data. They can also be downloaded onto your computer as malicious spyware.
Maybe I am being a little paranoid. I could never actually confirm that my card was skimmed. However, through researching credit card skimming in Orlando, I found quite a few instances of people caught targeting areas near where I live and work.
How to Avoid Skimming Fraud
I am convinced that this crime is a real threat. If you agree, here are some tips on how to avoid being a victim of credit card skimming and, ultimately, identity theft and financial fraud.
- Go to the Bank Window – If you’re going to a bank during office hours, go into the bank and make a withdrawal, or drive up to the teller window rather than taking money out at the ATM.
- Get Cash Back – Take advantage of the ability to get cash back at a grocery store instead of taking money out at an ATM.
- Pay Inside for Gas – Paying for gas at the pump is convenient, but not convenient enough to risk your credit card information. Opt to pay inside rather than using the machine outside. It’ll only take a couple more minutes.
- Pay Cash – Make an effort to carry cash and use it more often at gas stations and restaurants.
- Ask for the Manager – Don’t be shy about requesting that your credit or debit card be run by a manager at a restaurant. Protecting your personal financial information is far too important to worry about offending people.
- Keep Shopping and Banking on Your Private Computer – Avoid doing any online shopping or banking on public use computers. If you ever do have to use a public computer for these transactions, clear the cache, cookies, and history afterward, just to be safe.
Credit card skimming can be devastating to your personal finances. I was lucky that my bank notified me quickly and was willing to work with me to counter the false charges to my card. I’m sure others have lost far more to this latest trend in credit card fraud and identity theft. Make sure that you are doing everything in your power to protect yourself.
Do you have any other tips or ideas for avoiding credit card skimming? Share your experiences and ideas in the comments below.
(photo credit: Shutterstock)