What is a Credit Card Skimmer, And How Can I Pay Safely With My Card?

Last Updated on August 4, 2023

Have you ever wondered if you can safely use your credit card at an ATM or gas station? Sometime back, I heard a friend talk about credit card skimmers. I must confess I was somewhat clueless about this threat. 

When I decided to dive deeper and do some research, some of the information I came across was extremely shocking. So, if you are worried about the safety and protection of your credit and debit card information, this article is for YOU.

According to the FBI, card skimming costs customers and financial companies over $1 billion annually. That’s a lot of money!

You may have heard about fraudulent credit card skimmers deceptively installed at gas pumps, retail stores, ATMs, and other locations by scam artists. Online e-skimming is no different; According to Visa’s Spring 2023 Biannual Threats Report, digital skimming attacks targeting customer data on eCommerce checkout pages increased by 174 percent in the last half of 2022.

Do I have your attention now? OK, let’s go over everything about credit card skimming and how you can protect yourself to keep your data safe

What are Credit Card Skimmers?

Credit card skimmers are fraudulent devices usually attached to a card reader. 

They are used to steal credit card data. Whenever a credit or debit card is inserted, the skimmer reads or “skims” the data it contains – the name, number, and other pertinent information.

Related: Famous Identity Theft Cases That Rocked The Nation

Types of Credit Card Skimmers


Image by Mohamed Hassan

Here is a detailed breakdown of the most common skimmers so that you remain aware and alert.

Camera skimmers

What is it? Skimming tools can include small cameras used to learn your card PIN. In some cases, they may even take a photo of your face. Since these devices are well-hidden and frequently seem to be part of the ATM system, you may not think twice about these tiny cameras. Also, these cameras may also be close to the ATM or a store’s point of sale system, positioned just right to capture everything. 

How to spot it:  Camera skimmers remain concealed over the PIN pad, atop the display panel, or in a nearby object like a cabinet or shelf. Conversely, the official cameras of the bank authorities are generally easily visible and bulky. You should exercise caution if you notice a tiny pinhole in the ATM since it might be a small camera that a scammer has installed there.

How to avoid it:  When entering your PIN, cover the keypad with your hand. In other words, you prevent the device from capturing the PIN while you’re typing it in. If you observe objects like knickknacks close to the ATM, move them. Check if they cover the concealed device, and if you get suspicious don’t use that ATM and notify the authorities so that they can look into it. 

Fake Keypads

What is it? Credit card skimmers at ATMs frequently use fake keypads. Sometimes, scammers may place a fake keypad over the genuine one. These sit on the original keyboard and capture the personal identification number (PIN) you type in. The fake keypads are particularly hard to recognize as they easily blend in with ATM machines or point-of-sale systems

How to spot it: The keys on a malicious keypad can be raised, thick, big, or denser than usual for a machine. Also, the keypad may appear out of place or crooked.

How to avoid it: Touch and check the keypad to make sure it isn’t a fake device. When you pay for gasoline with a credit card or use an ATM to withdraw money, be vigilant. If possible, take the time to go inside the building to pay. Again, if you are concerned or suspect that the ATM you’re using has a skimmer device, or if you observe something unusual, inform the authorities. 

Card Reader Skimmers

What is it? This skimmer will be attached to a card reader or over the card slot. These are the most common types. They appear bulky, and they usually get placed on the card slot. Some are noticeable because they do not match the color of the rest of the device.

How to spot it: There is a simple method for detecting skimmers on any machinery or device. Before using it, inspect the instrument and look for any loose or moving parts. Generally, a card reader that moves when you nudge it could be an indication that a card reader skimmer has been installed.

How to avoid it: As previously stated, a card reader skimming device is visually detectable. In other words, a short visual scan before swiping or inserting your card can help prevent theft. If the card reader looks fishy at the gas pump or ATM, alert the management that they may have a credit card skimmer implanted. Choose another ATM if you have even the slightest uncertainty.

Credit Card Shimmers

What is it? Shimmers are an advanced variation of the credit card skimmer. Credit card shimmers can read your data when you slide your card because of the EMV microchip inside your card. Shimmers are harder to find than skimmers because they lie hidden within the card reader. Therefore they are not visible on the outside.

How to spot it: Watch out for any possible indications of damage, broken seals, or tinkering when using a card reader at a gas station, shop, POS system, or ATM. Often, you can find a credit card shimmer by moving loose parts on the gadget. Along with the above methods, you can look for shimmers and skimmers using physical equipment or apps.

How to avoid it: Stay away from ATMs located in isolated or dark places. Scammers are inclined to place shimmers in areas with little visibility. Use the services and products from trustworthy establishments, retailers, and reliable vendors. Adopt mobile wallets or other contactless payment methods wherever possible since thieves cannot steal data when you don’t insert your card.


Hack Fraud Card royalty-free stock illustration

Image by Mohamed Hassan

What is it? Since the pandemic in 2020, demand for e-commerce has increased. E-skimming is a method of theft that cybercriminals use by injecting harmful code onto the payment gateways of a website. You will be busy paying for your shopping cart. Meanwhile, hackers steal your payment details or checkout forms. Such hostile activity can happen on an authentic website; it is not much different from a fraudulent phishing webpage. 

How to spot it: Customers use security suite software that identifies harmful code and stops them from providing personal data. As for the online business, it can hire or contract cybersecurity teams to probe the site’s JavaScript code or check for input validation.

How to avoid it: Check your credit card alerts to prevent further damage if your credit card info has been compromised. Anti-fraud mechanisms are usually set up at credit card firms to identify suspicious behavior. Use reputable online merchants and refrain from entering card information on unreliable websites. If possible, try not to enter your credit card information on any website. Use a digital wallet service on e-commerce sites, like Apple Pay or Google Pay, since these systems are incredibly safe.

Bluetooth Credit Card Skimmer

What is it? Bluetooth credit card skimmers rely on Bluetooth technology to remotely steal intercepted credit card information. Scammers prefer this method because they are hard to spot and can steal credit card information from remote locations. They can steal your credit card information, and you won’t even know. They use the stolen information later to conduct nefarious purchases or transactions.

How to spot it:  Anytime you use your credit card, observe your surroundings. Do not use the credit card reader if you notice anything that seems out of the ordinary. It is advisable to look for indications of tampering with the machine. Also, make use of a credit card with an embedded EMV chip. EMV chips are safer since they are more challenging to copy. 

How to avoid it: You may take a few precautions against Bluetooth credit card skimmers, such as paying attention to what’s going on around you, looking out for evidence of misuse, and using a credit card that has an EMV chip. Contact your credit card company as soon as possible if you believe your credit card information got compromised. Consider using a credit card with fraud insurance. Many credit cards have fraud protection services that may be useful if you are a victim.

Typical Locations Where Credit Card Skimmers are Installed

Fuel Stations and ATMs:

Mostly,  skimming happens at gas stations, credit card machines, and ATMs.
The skimmer provides the criminal with all the data required to create counterfeit credit cards and remove funds from your bank account.
Remember that attackers can also conceal a tiny camera close to the ATM that may capture your PIN as you input it.

Food Establishments and Shopping Centers:

Furthermore, a credit card skimmer steals information at stores and dining establishments.
Sometimes, scammers pose as new employees to use a skimmer and obtain data from credit cards. 
If you give the server your credit card for the restaurant bill, the server may swipe it with a credit card skimmer and collect the data on your credit card.
At times, an entire team may be in on a skimming racket.

The Repercussions Of Credit Card Skimming

After the credit card skimmer obtains your card information, the following may occur:

They may use the information they collect for identity fraud.
After that, the thief may create fake accounts or apply for a loan in your name using your private data and credit card details.
They may give away the information to other parties or copy it on fake credit cards.
The criminal may apply the stolen data to conduct online or telephone purchases. ‘Card not present’ fraud is a term that describes this type of criminal activity. 

What do you do if you are a victim of skimming

In most cases, credit card issuers implement fraud detection technologies and have the power to block your credit card right away if there are any indications of theft or fraud. Of course, unless the issuer warns you about the bogus transactions, you may not even know you are a victim of credit card skimming.

It’s always best to be vigilant and notify the credit card company in case of doubt. Also, ask them to block and stop all use of your card.

Keep reading to know how you can protect yourself from credit card skimming.

1. Take Security Steps


Image by teguhjati pras

Look, the truth is those who save their credit card details in their internet browsers and set up automatic payments using that card for automatic payments may likely become victims. It’s also true that your card information may get used in many ways once the skimmer steals it. In 2022, 44 percent of credit card customers claimed to have two or more fraudulent charges, up from 35 percent in 2021.

Technology: Although the previous information can often be adequate to identify a skimmer, there are also several kinds of programs that use the latest technology or devices to search for skimmers. 
Skimmer detector: Another kind of credit card skimmer detector is a plastic card you can slip into the device, and it will let you know if it has a skimming mechanism hooked up to it. 
ATM Location: Utilize ATMs in active, populated places. Thieves will likely install skimmers in remotely located areas where they won’t get discovered. Verify the spot before using an ATM inside. The machine is more secure if positioned where an employee can observe it. When you use a public ATM, ensure that it is near the front door of the building or faces a busy road.
Track account updates: Check your bank account at least twice per week. Proactively notify your bank if you see any dubious transactions on your account. You can request a payment reversal, and the authorities may refund you. But, it’s best to ensure nobody else has control over your money, so monitor your bank account for activity 2-4 times weekly. Enroll in your bank’s fraud warning system for more security. Generally speaking, if your financial institution detects something unusual, they will notify you.
Set up notifications: A good idea would be to set up alerts on your credit cards and bank accounts. Create limits so that you get notified whenever the amount charged exceeds a particular limit; or if a fraud activity occurs. It is only a matter of a few seconds to know if you placed the charge once you receive an alert via email or text.
Maintain good habits: Usually, it is risky to connect to an unprotected public WIFI network if your device contains banking information. Use two-factor authentication or facial identification to access credit card accounts online. Also, never use the same password across all your accounts since it makes them vulnerable to hacking. Instead, use an online password manager. 
Usage:  Use your debit card instead of a credit card. If you don’t have that alternative, hide the keypad while entering your PIN. If you want to pay the gas station, it is best to go inside and pay the clerk. Also, you may not run across a skimmer when you use a point-of-sale terminal next to an attendant.
Research and verify: Research the online store you like to shop at. It is the most effective way to avoid potential e-Skimming websites. Use the web to do market research if the business is virtually unheard of yet claims to provide steal deals and offers. Research the security measures that the company takes and whether they meet industry standards and guidelines. Look for ratings and reviews of the business to learn more. If it is a relatively unknown eCommerce website, Google it or check on Quora or Redditt for genuine user reviews.

2. Protect Your Card and Data

If you cannot track your credit report on your own or have been a victim of identity fraud, these companies can support you. By the way, remember that their services cannot prevent theft, but they can keep track of it and notify you of inconsistencies whenever they occur. 

But it doesn’t stop there; the next step is password protection. Hackers can steal any information you enter if there is no encryption. Therefore, ensure you have an encrypted connection when doing your online transactions. Furthermore, you can use a password manager like Bitwarden, an open-source freemium service that protects sensitive data and passwords

Final Thoughts

I hope this article was informative and eye-opening. Scammers are clever and their card skimmers are part of their dangerous arsenal. By being alert and vigilant whenever you use your plastic, you may be able to spot every skimmer out there, but the technology keeps evolving and one day, you may become a victim. 

I can’t stress enough how identity theft protection can help you recover from financial losses. So, it’s time YOU do your research and get the best identity theft protection available.

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