You’re looking over your credit card statement and you see hundreds of dollars of charges that don’t look familiar at all. If that’s ever happened to you, you may be the victim of credit card skimmers. Skimmers are most commonly encountered at gas stations and ATMs, and they’re getting far more sophisticated.
Credit card skimmers used to be noticeable attachments that were added to the outside of credit card slots at gas station pumps and at ATMs. But technological developments have progressed to where the most recent skimmers can be slipped into a credit card slot and buried within the machine itself, completely unnoticeable to hapless customers.
The most modern skimmers no longer require criminals to access the skimmer physically. With Bluetooth capability now built in to many skimmers, criminals can access the skimmer remotely, downloading credit card numbers remotely. More advanced skimmers even contain built-in SIM cards and will remotely contact servers and report credit card information, negating the need to ever return to a skimmer once it has been placed.
Credit card skimming costs card companies $2 billion a year worldwide in fraudulent charges, so card companies and ATM companies are doing everything they can to combat skimming. Credit card skimmers are not yet able to crack credit cards that use chips, only those transactions that use the magnetic stripe on the back of credit cards. That means that point of sale transactions that use a credit card’s chip are not at risk of being skimmed. The only transactions that remain at risk are those that rely on the magnetic stripe, such as withdrawing cash at an ATM or buying gas at a gas station pump.
As chip cards become more common, it’s possible that even ATMs and gas pumps may eventually switch over to chip transactions. In the meantime, some ATM manufacturers are producing machines with card slots that accept a card widthwise rather than lengthwise, to try to defeat existing skimmer technology.
For consumers, it pays to be vigilant when reviewing your credit card and bank account statements. If your credit card is compromised, your liability is normally limited if you report the suspicious transactions timely. Many banks won’t hold you liable at all. If your ATM or debit card is compromised, however, and you take more than 60 days to report unauthorized transactions, you could be liable for any transactions or for any money taken out of your bank account.