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Card Skimming And Shimming

In what is quickly becoming a cashless society, consumers now make most of their purchases using either credit or debit cards. This electronic movement of money has inspired scammers to devise ways to stealthily access the accounts of others for illegal purposes.

What Is Skimming?

One of the ways scammers have come up with to steal your money is by skimming. Skimming is the act of illegally capturing data from the magnetic stripe found on the back of debit and credit cards. This is done by attaching a small electronic device to an ATM. Skimming devices can also be attached to point-of-purchase (POS) terminals like gas pumps. The device is placed on top of or inside a card swipe reader. Then, whenever you swipe your card, the magnetic strip data is captured and recorded. This allows criminals to discreetly take funds from the account connected to the card. Before the owner is aware that the card is compromised, hundreds or even thousands of dollars can be stolen.

Some skimming machines record card data internally. This means the criminals must return to the location to retrieve the machine and complete their scam. Other skimmers use wireless and Bluetooth technology to collect card information. This allows the criminals to collect the data from wherever they want.

Skimmers placed at ATM machines are almost always accompanied by a small camera placed within range of the keypad. The camera records the card PIN numbers that will allow the criminals to take money directly from victims’ bank accounts.

Sometimes keypad overlays are used in card skimming operations. These are identical keypads placed over the real keypad. This fake keypad is designed to look and feel as much like the real thing as possible. When card users enter their PIN numbers, the overlay records the PIN as it is typed.

In response, financial institutions have devised a way to protect the data stored on debit and credit cards. They did this by installing a microchip into each card. This new security feature made it necessary for criminals to discover another way to illegally access your card information.

What Is Shimming?

The financial institutions that created the card chip standard are collectively known as EMV (Europay, Mastercard, Visa). To accommodate the change to chip-enabled cards, stores converted their card swipe machines to chip insert machines.

Card shimmers work just like card skimming devices except, instead of reading the magnetic strip, they read the card’s microchip. Just as with skimmers, shimmer devices are placed on ATMs and at POS terminals. Whenever a chip-enabled card is inserted, the microchip data is stolen. With the stolen microchip data, a counterfeit card can be created.

Shimming devices are much harder to detect without dismantling the machines they have been attached to. But there are steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim of card skimming and shimming.

  • Use cash whenever possible.
  • Examine your bank/credit card statements often. Look for any unauthorized charges.
  • Try not to use stand-alone ATMs like those found in convenience stores. These machines are not as well-maintained or secure as bank ATMs.
  • When using an ATM, cover the PIN pad with your hand as you type in your PIN. This may not prevent your card data from being collected and used at POS terminals. But it will prevent criminals from emptying your bank account since they do not have your PIN.

Report Fraud

If you believe you have been the victim of card fraud and know where it occurred, contact the local police department. Then you can contact the Department of Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Team, which can be reached at:

Consumer Protection Team
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
Fax: 517-241-3771
Toll-free: 877-765-8388
Online complaint form