Patrick County authorities are cautioning residents to watch for skimmers when using credit or debit cards to pay at fuel pumps or using automated teller machines (ATMs).
Sheriff’s investigator Danny Martin explained that credit-card skimmers are portable devices that may be temporarily affixed to gas pumps, ATMs, or other convenient self-service point-of-sale terminals.
The devices usually are attached in front or on top of a legitimate scanner, where they can then record data from cards that are inserted into a legitimate scanner, he said.
“Skimmer technology has become cheaper and more sophisticated. Some skimmers capture card information using a magnetic reader and a miniature camera to record someone typing in a PIN number,” Martin said. There are other cases in which a secondary keypad is put on top of an actual keypad to capture and record PIN numbers, he added.
Skimmers, and the information they record, can then be removed from pumps or ATMs and the information can be used without the cardholder’s knowledge. Martin said.
“This is a growing problem and has been reported in nearby jurisdictions,” Martin said. But, cardholders can take simple steps to help safeguard information.
Martin recommends inspecting the card reader and the area near the PIN pad.
“Many banks and merchants realize that skimming is on the rise and will often post a picture of what the real device is supposed to look like” so customers can recognize if something is attached that is not supposed to be, Martin said.
However, someone installing a card skimmer could put a fake picture over the real picture, Martin said, so that isn’t a foolproof way to spot a skimmer. He also recommends looking at other nearby fuel pumps or ATMs for a visual comparison.
“See if they match the one you’re using. Unless skimmers are running a large operation, they probably are only skimming at one gas pump at a time,” Martin said.
Other recommendations include trusting your instincts. “If in doubt, use another pump or ATM somewhere else,” Martin said.
If possible, don’t use PIN numbers at fuel pumps, he said, and added most machines offer the option to run a card as either a debit or credit card.
“It’s best to choose the credit option. That allows you to avoid entering your PIN in sight of a card skimmer camera,” Martin said. “Even if there is not a card skimmer camera in sight, someone could be watching you enter your PIN and could subsequently mug you and take your card to the nearest ATM to withdraw some cash,” he added.
When used as a credit card, users generally must enter only their billing ZIP code as verification, Martin said, and added that “is much safer than putting in a PIN.”
Also, keep a watchful eye on debit/credit card accounts, Martin said. “Report any suspicious activity immediately,” he said.