Credit Card Skimmers & How To Avoid Being The Next Target

Updated on February 9, 2024
Credit Card Skimmers & How To Avoid Being The Next Target

If you’re overprotective about your details, like credit/debit card information and other banking details, then it’s justified. With the rise of illegal credit card skimmers, you must be more vigilant than ever.

You can find skimmers in ATMs, gas stations, and grocery stores, among other locations. Skimming devices can steal your credit/debit card information and, according to the FBI, cost people and other institutions $ 1 billion.

The real question is, how did these scams evolve to become what they are today, and what steps can you take to tackle this issue? As you keep reading, we will discover how these scammers use skimmers to steal your data.

You will also learn how to spot a skimmer and ways to prevent such scams. You should regularly check your card transactions so that you can contact the issuing authorities as soon as you suspect something fishy is going on.

What Are Skimmers?

Skimming is a method through which fraudsters can steal your credit/debit card details using devices called skimmers. It’s a tiny device that’s attached to a card reader. It collects data from every person that swipes their card on it.

After the device has collected all the data, the fraudster will go to the compromised machine to steal all the data in a file. It can be tricky for people to figure out these scams because many times, skimmers don’t let ATMs from not functioning properly, making it hard for people to find out any suspicious activity.
These scammers also place hidden cameras near ATMs so that they can see and record confidential information like PINs to access their bank accounts. People can find the cameras on the card readers or at the top of the ATM.

A History of Skimming in Review

It was in 2002 when word started spreading around about tiny devices called skimmers that people used to record names and other information through magnetic stripes that someone could download on a computer. Nobody at the time believed such a thing was possible, but they were proven wrong.

In 2003, customers using an ATM at a New York deli lost up to $200,000 daily because of these skimming devices. ATM skimming started gaining more popularity in the 2010s with the massive production of wireless skimming devices.

By 2011, ATM manufacturers started developing anti-skimming tech to deal with this problem. This was the same year that skimming devices began production on a larger scale, owing to 3D printers.

In 2013, gas pump stations became the next target for criminals to carry out card skimming scams. They reported that people were victims of almost $400,000 having gotten stolen from them at Murphy’s gas stations in Oklahoma. These criminals used fake PIN pads to get customers’ information.

Between 2014 and 2015, FICO, a Data Analytics company, reported an increase of 456% in skimming attacks in the United States alone. Europe, on the other hand, recorded around 18,738 skimming attacks.

Currently, the skimming epidemic isn’t planning on going away anytime soon. Thieves have become much more technologically advanced and can even access banking systems from remote locations.

They now carry out these frauds via malware, which means hackers access ATMs and people’s private information without installing a physical device. Since these cybercriminals are always a step ahead, it’s good to have preventive measures in place from the get-go.

Other Types of Skimming

Tax Evasion: Skimming is often used for tax evasion. The business owner can keep the cash he receives without updating it in the system. Cash gets transferred from the customer and goes directly to the owner. He keeps the money to himself and thus avoids paying personal income taxes.

Direct Theft: A fraudster steals all the money and hides it from his business partner or employer.

Bribery: Skimming can lead to other crimes, such as bribery. The owner of a business can use bribery to get something done and put some extra money on the side to be used for such purposes.

The Rise of Skimming In The Present Era

According to the data collected by FICO, the number of compromised cards has increased to a staggering 368% compared to last year.

Since the pandemic, catching these criminals has been a challenge. Even though there are advances in technology, these criminals are still a step ahead, making it difficult for law enforcement agencies to catch them.

These scammers have also begun targeting a new group of individuals. Since mid-2022, they’ve been after food-insecure people. In recent months, thousands of people relying on Federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance have had their money stolen from their bank accounts.

One of the victims, Lee, was given a set amount by the government to help pay for her food. When she went to the grocery store to get more food, she realized the funds on her card had vanished, even though the government had reloaded the money only a day prior.

She found out that someone was using her card number to make purchases almost a thousand miles away in Illinois while in Boston. She thinks someone may have stolen her information and skimmed her card while she was at a convenience store.

These fraudulent activities have cost people millions of dollars. CBS reached out to the authorities that administered these SNAP programs and came to discover that:

  • Between July 2021 and November 2022, $7 million were stolen in California.
  • Between June 2022 and March 2023, over $2.9 million got stolen in Massachusetts.
  • Between January 2022 and March 2023, $7 million were stolen in New York.

How Can You Spot A Skimmer?

If you want to identify a credit card skimmer device correctly, since they are challenging to spot, there are some signs that you need to be on the lookout for. These significant signs include:

1) Look At The Card Reader

When you go to an ATM, check for any tampering. You can find them near the speakers, the card reader, or the keyboard. If something looks off, such as the color has changed or the material and graphics aren’t aligned correctly, then you can be confident that it has been tampered with and is likely being used for skimming.

2) Compare Other ATMs In The Area

If you’re going to the bank, then be sure to check the bank’s ATM and the one next to yours and compare them to see any noticeable differences. If you find anything suspicious, you must report it to the bank immediately.

3) Inspect The Card Reader

If the keyboard doesn’t feel right to you and looks different than usual, maybe it’s too thick or placed correctly, then that’s a surefire sign something is wrong. Also, look into holes that might be covering the cameras.

If you can’t figure anything out, try to push and feel things. ATMs are built with solid materials, so their parts are less likely to get loose and come off. Check if the card reader and keypads are securely in their place. If not, run the other way!

4) Cover The Keyboard When Entering PIN

To be on the safe side, every time you have a run-in with an ATM and you need to take out some cash, always assume that someone is watching. Even if everything looks OK, always cover the keyboard with your hand when you’re entering the PIN.

Criminals just need the PIN. Without the PIN, any actions they carry out are futile. Don’t use your card’s magnetic stripe to carry out transactions if possible. Payment terminals now encourage you to insert your chip instead of swiping your card.

5) Check For A Security Seal

Gas stations have a security tape or sticker over the cabinet panel. If the tape has been ripped or broken, avoid using the card reader, as it means a thief has tampered with it. It would help if you looked inside the card reader to see whether a thief has tampered with it. Look inside the credit card reader to see if anything has been inserted; a thin plastic circuit board might have been used to steal credit card information.

How To Avoid Skimming Fraud

There are several ways that you can avoid Skimming fraud. These are simple steps that can help you avoid getting scammed. So, let’s jump right into it.

1) Physical Inspection of Card Reader

We know how tricky it can be to spot skimmers, seeing how good these criminals are at covering their tracks. These thieves create devices that match the style of the card readers. You can spot a card-skimming device by doing a physical inspection.

Feel the card reader and shake it to see if it quickly comes out of its place. If the part has been tampered with, it’s getting used for fraudulent activities. Actual card readers are manufactured using high-quality materials, so they won’t be able to be moved around so quickly.

2) Opt For Contactless Payment

An alternative to swiping your card is using contactless payments like Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, and Venmo to help tokenize your credit card details. Using them can prevent criminals from getting exposed to your data. If a criminal does get access to the data, they will only get a useless virtual credit card number.

3) Be Cautious When Dealing With Gas Pump Skimmers

Gas pump skimmers are attached to the internal wiring of the machines so people can’t see them. To avoid getting scammed, here’s what you have to do:

  • Go to a gas station closer to a store and in direct view of the visitors. These stations are less likely to be used by scammers.
  • Cover the keypad when you’re entering your PIN since there are cameras installed that people won’t be able to see.
  • Pay inside while you’re with an attendant, not alone outside the pump.

4) Look For Hidden Cameras

Unlike Gas pump skimmers, ATM skimming devices fit into the original card reader. There are pinhole cameras installed on ATMs that can see and record people when they’re entering their PINs. These skimming devices then store all the data downloaded and transferred later. To avoid ATM skimming, you must:

  • Cover the keypad when entering the PIN to prevent the hidden cameras from recording you.
  • Ensure you inspect card readers and note if the readers are damaged or scratched. Don’t use the card readers if you feel that something is off.
  • Use ATMs that are near banks or are in-door. They’re much safer than ATMs that are at isolated locations.
  • Be aware of tourist locations because these areas are susceptible to skimming attacks and fraud.
  • Don’t use your debit card if you have linked accounts. In such a situation, use a credit card instead.
  • Use credit/debit cards that have chip technology. In the United States, fewer devices steal chip data than magnetic strip data.
  • If the gas station hasn’t started accepting mobile wallets, you can pay inside the service station instead.

When you go to an ATM, check for any tampering. You can find them near the speakers, the card reader, or the keyboard. If something looks off, such as the color has changed or the material and graphics aren’t aligned correctly, then you can be confident that it has been tampered with and is likely being used for skimming.

How Can You Spot A Skimmer

Shimming: Is It The New Skimming?

Move over, skimming. “Shimming” is termed the new version of skimming. Virtually all credit/debit cards have microchips, which are used to prevent credit card fraud since you have to insert the card rather than swipe it. The data is illegally captured on EMV-compliant debit/credit card microchips.

As a result, criminals have found a way to capture the data from the microchip itself. They use it to make fraudulent transactions via card shimming. The microchip is supposed to prevent these frauds, but some criminals have also found a way around that.

There are ways, however, ways through which you can protect yourself from shimming scams. Here’s how:

  • Try to use cash when possible.
  • At the ATM, cover the PIN pad with your hand while typing in your PIN. This way, criminals won’t be able to directly empty your bank account since they don’t have your PIN.
  • Don’t use ATMs found near convenience stores, as they’re likely not as secure. If you want to use one, use the ATMs located in banks.
  • Keep a close watch on your bank statements to ensure you’re not getting charged for something you didn’t pay for.

What To Do If Credit Card Gets Compromised

If your card has been compromised, contact your financial institution immediately. You must also report it to the Manager who runs the place. And above all else, you must trust your instincts. If you feel something is amiss, go somewhere else. Check your account statement regularly so that way if something happens, you can report it to the bank immediately.


You may now be on your guard and planning to take the necessary steps to protect your information and data, but these crooks are always one step ahead. The best way to protect yourself is to regularly check your credit card statements and record your receipts to take action against them. Just make sure you review all the security measures to avoid becoming the next target for these criminals.


Can skimmers get CVV?

When the cardholder swipes or inserts their card into the compromised ATM’s slot, the skimmer will read and store the card’s magnetic strip data. This data includes the cardholder’s name, the card number, expiration date, and the CVV.

Is skimming cybercrime?

Skimming is the unauthorized capture of sensitive credit and debit card information. Cybercriminals use different tactics to steal this data and use it for fraudulent activities. 

Do skimmers get your PIN?

When you slide your card into the ATM with the skimming device attached, you unknowingly slide it through the counterfeit reader, which scans and stores your sensitive information from the magnetic strip and captures your PIN from the keypad.

Can Apple Pay be skimmed?

Apple Pay cannot be skimmed because your card number and information aren’t transmitted during an Apple Pay transaction. Apple Pay takes the additional step of encrypting the data so that your actual card information isn’t on your iCloud. 

Do banks refund scammed money?

Most banks refund your money if you’ve transferred money to someone because of a scam.

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About The Author

Urfa Sarmad

Urfa is a business management graduate who delved into the world of tech, data privacy and cybersecurity and has been writing tech and privacy related content ever since. In her free time.

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