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Essential security tips to keep your card safe from skimmers
This guide on card skimmers will help you keep your cards safe in everyday situations.
It’s not uncommon to get a call from your bank stating that there has been suspicious activity on your debit or credit card. This situation is relatable to most and may even be something you’ve experienced yourself. Credit card fraud is becoming more sophisticated, with scammers using devices called “skimmers” that steal and store your information when you swipe or insert your card.
We help you learn how to identify card skimmers and provide simple ways that you can keep your card safe.
What is a skimmer?
A skimmer is a small device that scammers attach to card readers on ATMs, gas pumps, debit/credit card terminals or any other device where you insert or swipe your card for payment or withdrawal.
To the average consumer, the odds of falling victim to a skimmer — or that a skimmer will be successful — may seem low. But these nearly undetectable devices are a highly effective way for scammers to easily steal your info – especially if you don’t know how to spot them.
How does a skimmer work?
When you insert or swipe your credit or debit card, the skimming device captures the information found in your card’s magnetic strip or chip. You’re able to complete your transaction like normal, but the crook who installed the skimmer can collect the skimmer later, download your information and make purchases or withdrawals without your knowledge.
What's in my card's magnetic strip or chip?
A wealth of information is stored in that little chip and the black strip on the back of your card. It contains the name of your bank or issuer, your name and country, your account number, PIN number and other details specific to your account, like your account limits and the types of charges your card accepts. In short, enough to make purchases with your data.
Although skimming can happen almost anywhere you use your card, you can prevent losing your data to a skimmer.
Start by managing your card settings with your credit card provider. Most offer a way for you to control where your card can be used. For instance, you can set a limit on the maximum amount you can spend on a single purchase or request notification by text or email if your card is used online (rather than in person at a store).
Here are a few other ways to stay safe:
- Study the card reader. Go ahead and jiggle or shake the card reader before using it. Skimmers are often not securely attached, and moving it around could release and expose it.
- Give your card a glance. Scratches, markings or stickiness left on your card after swiping are all signs that your card may have been tampered with.
- Track your balances. Monitor your account balances to avoid being blindsided by an overdraft or an unauthorized purchase. By adjusting notification services, you can be informed if an attempt is made to charge over an allotted amount.
- Tap and go or insert your chip. Using the tap and go feature can virtually remove the chances of becoming the victim of skimming fraud. In addition, using the chip reader, instead of swiping the magnetic strip, significantly lessens the chance of fraud. If your card doesn’t have a chip or the tap feature, request one from your financial institution.
- Consider cash. At the pump, pay for your gas inside or with an attendant. For other purchases, sign and save your receipts until you’re able to verify purchases on your next statement.
ATMs and gas pumps
ATMs and gas pumps are the ideal places for a criminal to attach a skimmer. They’re relatively unattended and used with such frequency that it’d be hard to tell apart a criminal affixing one from a customer merely withdrawing cash or purchasing gas. Use ATMs, gas pumps and any other credit card readers in well-lit and monitored locations – and avoid ones in isolated or poorly lit areas.
How do I report a skimmer?
If you find a skimmer or confirm that you’ve been the victim of one, first call your financial institution to let them know when and where you think it happened. Cancel your card and request a replacement, and follow up by email to further document your claim.
From there, place a fraud alert on your card, which requires businesses to contact you before issuing credit in your name. Additionally, contact the two credit bureaus to notify them to make sure your credit report is not affected by any fraudulent charges.
Contact your local police to file a report and notify the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC). You can contact CAFC by calling 1-888-495-8501 or file a report online here.
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There’s no sure-fire way to prevent skimming. Every time your card is swiped or inserted into a machine, there’s a chance someone could be attempting to steal your personal and financial information. Be aware of how and where your card is used to significantly decrease the likelihood of your personal and financial details being skimmed.
Frequently asked questions
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