Credit Card Skimming in Identity Theft

Now we are going to talk about a threat, that is mainly known as skimming. This time, instead of fooling you into revealing your personal details, the fraudster will attempt to directly steal your card details right from under your nose!

The skimming fraud occurs mainly in bars and restaurants where you will gladly hand over your card for payment.

Without your knowledge, the card is then quickly passed through a skimming device that reads the card details and makes a copy of the information. This data can then be duplicated and used to print a replica card at a later point.

The most dangerous part of the skimming lies in the fact that you are completely unaware your card has been copied until it’s too late and your account is maxed out!

These days skimming devices are extremely small, well hidden and only take a split second to record your card details, so it’s all over in a flash!

You may also be surprised to hear that skimming is a big underworld business, with highly organized criminals paying unscrupulous waiters or waitresses very well for skimming your cards.

You Would Unlikely Notice Anything Suspicious

Many are so practiced that it’s unlikely you would notice at all. Maybe they’d accidentally drop your card and have to bend down behind the counter to pick it up?

Perhaps they’d need to fetch the credit card reader from behind the bar? Perhaps they’d have problems with the machine and go to get somebody to help?

They may even just turn their back on you for a second while skimming your card!

Worst of all, most of these establishments actually require the waiter or waitress to take your card completely out of your site because the card readers are ‘hidden’.

This isn’t because the owners are trying to hide something from you, it’s simply because the card readers normally have to connect to a phone line.

The Connection

The phone connection may be in the bar area, at a wait staff station or anywhere else, but generally it is not out in the open. We have become accustomed to just handing our card over at payment time.

Needless to say, there are hundreds of reasons a waiter or waitress may leave your sight with your card, without you ever becoming suspicious.

Once the skimmed details are in the wrong hands, the criminals will often complete a test run. This is to ensure that the card they have duplicated is both active and has an available balance to spend.

To do this they make a very small purchase or payment, normally made online and normally for only a few dollars. It’s these irregular patterns that anti-fraud services try to look for on your accounts. Unfortunately, they don’t always catch the telltale signs early enough.

How Can You Avoid Becoming a Victim?

The success of this technique relies heavily on deception and misdirection, so awareness is a great defense here.

The best way to ensure the integrity of your cards is to be observant and alert when making payments by bank or credit card. Portable card readers are now available and can be brought right to the table at payment time.

If you frequent a restaurant that does not have the portable style, ask the manager to get one. Normally, the provider of their merchant account will give them the equipment they need.

After all, the provider makes money off of each transaction, so they are more than willing to give away the card readers.

If no portable card reader is available, make sure you’re in a position to carefully watch the person who has your card. Look for any unusual movements like bending down unexpectedly or taking an extraordinarily long time with your card.

Try to position yourself so that you can see their hands and your card at all times throughout the transaction. Here are three quick tips on skimming protection:

  • If you frequent any business that takes your credit card out of site to process a payment, ask them if they have a portable card reader. If not, recommend they get one.

  • Carefully watch any person who has your card until the transaction is complete.

  • Call your credit card providers and ask them if they provide active fraud monitoring. This means they will call you if any unusual transactions appear on your account.

What if You Think Your Card Has Been Skimmed?

If you become concerned about the behavior of a staff member or if you clearly see something suspicious happened, you have two options:

If you believe the establishment is normally an honest, well-managed business, you could politely ask to speak to the manager. Remain friendly so the waiter or waitress does not suspect anything.

Then quietly tell the manager of your concern. They will almost certainly be completely unaware of any illegal activities in their establishment. These types of scammers normally work completely alone, passing card details on to the organized criminals for a good price.

Leave as Normal

The alternative option is to leave without letting on that there is a problem. If you were to ‘spook’ the skimmer, there is a high probability they would hide or dispose of the skimming device and any other incriminating evidence.

Go directly to the police and report the incident, letting them know that the individual is still on the premises.

The police have a much better chance of catching the criminal in the act, with the skimming device on them, if the skimmer is unaware that anybody has realized what they are up to.

Then you must be sure to contact your card provider immediately so they can put a block on your accounts and issue you a new card with a new account number right away!

Informing your card issuer that you are concerned your account has been compromised will also mean you will no longer be liable for any fraudulent transactions that may appear on your account from that moment.

Make sure to read our prevention tips and strategies on how to avoid online credit card fraud as well.