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How to Avoid a Credit Card Skimmer [7 Easy Tips]

A woman pays at a gas pump using a credit card after checking the machine for a credit card skimmer.

Credit card skimmers remain a real danger whenever you use your debit or credit card to pay for things. Here’s what you need to know about how card skimming works and how to avoid becoming a victim.

Get Card Sharp: Protect Yourself From Card Skimming

Debit and credit cards remain the most popular way to pay for almost anything in the U.S. While it’s hard to beat the flexibility and convenience that bank cards offer, whenever you use your debit or credit card you are at risk of falling victim to card skimming.

Below we break down what card skimming is, how it works, and describe seven simple steps you can take to protect yourself.

We also look at what to do if you suspect your card has been skimmed and explain how banking with a card-savvy credit union or bank can help protect you in the event that your card details have been stolen.

Ready to get card sharp? Then read on.

What Is a Card Skimmer?

A card skimmer is a small device that allows criminals to steal your personal details almost anywhere you use your debit or credit card to pay for services. That includes:

  • Grocery and convenience stores
  • Department stores
  • ATMs
  • Gas pumps
  • Self-service units and vending machines

Card skimmers are usually mounted on top of legitimate card readers. They steal all the information encoded on your card to make an illegal duplicate. Criminals can often use this to access your bank accounts or purchase goods and services fraudulently.

Card skimming is most effective if the thief also accesses your personal identification number or the three-digit identifying code on the back of your credit card at the same time.

To do this criminals use hidden cameras, or just observe when you enter your pin, or even simply glance at the back of your credit card when you use it to pay in person.

7 Easy Ways to Avoid Card Skimmers

Card skimmers have become smaller and harder to spot over time. Some skimmers even communicate your stolen details via a Bluetooth® connection, so criminals never need to return to retrieve the scanner from a compromised gas pump, self-service unit, or ATM.

That said, a few sensible precautions can still greatly reduce your chance of getting skimmed.

1. Inspect the Card Reader

Look carefully at card readers before using them, even in stores. Look for anything that seems added on or foreign to the reader itself. Look for misaligned or loose surfaces, different colors, or evidence that something has been glued or bolted on.

2. Check the Security Seal

Gas stations have long been a favorite target for card skimmers. Look carefully at any security seal installed on the pump’s card reader. If the seal is damaged or has been tampered with, move to another pump. If there is no security seal at all, consider using a different gas station.

3. Location, Location…

Be aware of the types of locations that card criminals prefer. Be cautious about using ATMs, vending machines, or gas pumps in quiet or poorly lit locations or small stand-alone ATM units offering cash in convenience stores or waiting areas.

In gas stations, choose the pumps closest to the attendant’s station, where it is harder for criminals to get access to a machine without attracting attention.

4. App It

If you have real suspicions about a location but still need to use it, consider using a skimmer-spotting app. These smartphone applications scan the area for the Bluetooth® signals skimmers now use to offload stolen information.

It’s by no means a perfect solution, but it can help you feel a little more confident about using your card in a potentially vulnerable location.

5. Protect Your Numbers…

You can limit the damage a card skimmer can do by protecting your pin. Assume you may be observed whenever you enter your PIN and look out for clerks or bystanders who appear interested in watching you.

6. Or Avoid Using Your PIN

In general, credit card transactions are more secure than using a debit card because you expose less information. Using a credit card for self-service transactions like buying gas allows you to avoid using a PIN altogether. Consider switching to a credit card when you are in a location that you have suspicions about.

7. Keep Your Card Close

That said, it can be very difficult to protect your credit card details from dishonest clerks or waiters. Such people can steal your card information using a handheld skimmer or glance at your card to access your three-digit code and other details.

Avoid letting a waiter take your card away if you do not feel comfortable. Instead, offer to walk with them to the pay point. Be suspicious of store clerks who insist on taking your card out of sight or claim they need to run a transaction several times.

7 Things to Do If You Think You’ve Been Skimmed

Got a bad feeling about using your card or worried that money might already be missing from your account? Other possible telltale signs of card skimming include:

  • Sudden changes in your account balance
  • Sudden changes in your credit score
  • Unexpected calls from billing departments or collections officers
  • Inquiries about items for sale on Craigslist or other online marketplaces
  • Receiving credit cards you did not apply for
  • Unexpected credit offers
  • Unsolicited phone calls or emails from people claiming to represent your bank, credit union, or card issuer

Here’s what to do if you suspect you might have been skimmed.

1.  Check Your Account Activity

Go online and check your activity on your checking account or credit card. Look for unfamiliar purchases, subscriptions, or refunds—especially ones that may seem to be pending for longer.

Don’t overlook very small transactions or discount an unexpected contribution to a nonprofit organization. Smart thieves often start with innocuous-looking transactions to see if you are paying attention.

2. Check Your Statement

You should be doing this every month or at least every quarter. Going back over your checking and credit card statements will help you get a feel for the things you usually spend money on and will make it easier to spot suspicious transactions when they happen.

3. Contact Your Card Issuer Immediately

Contact your card issuer if you have any suspicions about the security of your card or account. This is when it pays to use cards issued by your own bank or credit union.

Any financial institution will be particularly concerned with potential debit card fraud that would allow funds to be removed directly from your checking account. And, they’ll work with you and the big payment processors like VISA® or Mastercard® to freeze or reverse transactions.

At Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union, we offer our members several ways to access help if they suspect credit or debit card fraud.

For issues affecting your Jeanne D’Arc Debit Card:

  • Contact our Member Service Center at 978-452-5001 or visit your nearest branch during regular business hours to report the charges.
  • Call our 24/7 Card Care Center at 833-405-0528.

For issues affecting your Jeanne D’Arc Credit Card:

  • Contact 800-252-1142 to report unauthorized transactions.

4. Sign Up for Fraud Alerts

If you’re worried your debit card details might have been skimmed, it’s wise to sign up for fraud alerts from your bank or credit union. Fraud alerts make it possible to detect misuse of your card in real-time and thereby limit the time during which your personal financial information is compromised.

Signing up for fraud alerts for your Jeanne D’Arc debit card allows us to use our state-of-the-art fraud detection tools to monitor your account for suspicious activity or transactions. We’ll send you a text message asking you to validate any purchases that seem out of the ordinary for you.

5. Sign Up for VISA® Purchase Alerts

If you suspect your Jeanne D’Arc credit card might have been compromised, VISA®’s purchase alert service adds peace of mind and helps protect your account and credit score.

You can register for the program here. VISA® will confirm whether your card is eligible for the service. You’ll be able to establish your alert setting for when you want to be notified about card use. You’ll also be able to check your past purchase alerts for any suspicious activity.

6. Take Control

These days mobile banking and smartphone apps give you unprecedented control of your card through your favorite device, allowing you to stop criminals in their tracks by instantly freezing any of your debit or credit cards.

Jeanne D’Arc’s CardManager tool helps you protect, mitigate, and manage misuse of your debit and credit cards by allowing you to control exactly when, where, and how your cards are used through enabling location-based alerts, on/off settings, merchant alerts, and spending controls.

7. Consider Identity Theft Protection

Identity theft protection can be a great idea even if you are not immediately concerned about your card being skimmed.

This is because criminals who get hold of your financial details can do far more than simply take your money. They can also use your information to open their own credit accounts, access government benefits, and even claim tax refunds in your name.

Jeanne D’Arc’s Restoration Rescue® identity restoration program puts a range of resources at your fingertips so you can minimize the damage caused by identity theft. You’ll get:

  • Access to expert legal advice to help rebuild your credit
  • Reimbursements to replace stolen or compromised personal documents
  • Assistance with protecting your accounts and credit report from further attacks

Best of all, Restoration Rescue® is available for free to all Jeanne D’Arc members who sign up for our Member Perks program!

The Security You Need With the Service You Deserve

Card skimming, fraud, and identity theft are big worries. At Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union, we work hard to minimize the threats to your financial security and we stand by our members when their details are compromised.

Our mobile app gives you instant control over all your bank cards while our fraud alert program and comprehensive 24/7 card support services protect your Jeanne D’Arc checking account if your debit card details are exposed.

For maximum protection, sign up for our Restoration Rescue program through our Member Perks program, and consider applying for any of our quality VISA® credit card products.

Click below to learn more about how Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union works to keep you and your money safer.

Learn More About Fraud and Theft Protection