How to Spot and Avoid Credit Card Skimmers

Attention: open in a new window. Print

Don't fall victim to these insidious attacks!

Criminals can easily capture your credit and debit card information with small devices called skimmers.

Skimmers are essentially malicious card readers attached to ATM’s to harvest data from every person that swipes their cards.

The thief often has to come back to the compromised machine to pick up the file containing all the stolen data, but with that information in hand they can create cloned cards or just break into bank accounts to steal money.

Perhaps the scariest part is that skimmers don't prevent the ATM from functioning properly so often users are unaware they’ve been skimmed until fraudulent transactions start to appear.

The typical ATM skimmer is a device smaller than a deck of cards that fits over the existing card reader. Most of the time, the attackers will also place a hidden camera somewhere in the vicinity with a view of the number pad in order to record personal identification numbers (PINs). The camera may be in the card reader, mounted at the top of the ATM, or even just to the side inside a plastic case holding brochures. Some criminals may install a fake PIN pad over the actual keyboard to capture the PIN directly, bypassing the need for a camera.

How to reduce the risk of card skimming

  • When you approach an ATM, check for some obvious signs of tampering at the top of the ATM, the side of the screen, the card reader itself, and the keyboard.
  • If something looks different, such as a different color or material, graphics that aren't aligned correctly, or anything else that doesn't look right, don't use that ATM.
  • If the keyboard doesn't feel right—too thick, perhaps—then there may be a PIN-snatching overlay, so don't use it.
  • Wiggle everything even if you can't see any visual differences, push at everything. ATMs are solidly constructed and generally don't have any jiggling or loose parts. Pull at protruding parts like the card reader. See if the keyboard is securely attached and just one piece.
  • Whenever you enter your card's PIN, assume there is someone looking. Maybe it's over your shoulder or through a hidden camera. Cover the keypad with your hand when you enter your PIN even if you don't notice anything odd about the ATM. Obtaining the PIN is essential, since the criminals can't use the stolen magnetic stripe data without it. Of course, that assumes the attacker is using a camera and not an overlay to obtain your PIN.

Timely reporting is very important in cases of fraud, so be sure to keep an eye on your debit and credit card transactions and report anything suspicious to your card issuer immediately.

Remember: If something doesn't feel right about an ATM, just don't use it.


Name *
Submit Comment