How to spot them and how to pay to avoid getting ripped off

The digital age has created countless new opportunities for crooks to find and exploit their victims. They can target your personal information, finances or both using keyloggers, public Wi-Fi, phishing, fake apps, sites, emails, social media accounts, phone calls and too many other methods to list.

The recent cryptocurrency boom is ripe for exploitation. People with little or no experience with digital currency sign up with the hope of making a profit. The crooks jumped into the fray to take advantage of the situation. Tap or click here to see how crypto scam apps work and ways to avoid them.

Scammers don’t just operate digitally these days. They can target you using physical means, and you won’t know it until it’s too late. Credit card skimmers have been around for a while and are still effective tools for crooks. Do you think the chip on your card will protect you? Well, they found a way around that too.

Skimmers vs. shimmers

A credit card skimmer is a device connected to a payment terminal such as an ATM or gas station pump that reads and collects data from credit and debit cards used on the machine. Skimmers can be installed inside or outside the machine and can vary in size, shape and level of technical sophistication.

The thief leaves the device installed on a machine for a while and then returns to recover the data he has stolen. The skimmer does not even need to be removed for this part of the scheme. Information can be retrieved remotely via smartphone. The skimmer is left to continue the work so the crook can come back to pick up more.

The shimmers fit inside the payment terminal and act as a wedge between the chip reader and the chip on your payment card. When you insert your card, the flicker intercepts the data on your chip.

Either way, the stolen information can be used to clone cards or commit fraud on your behalf.

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How to spot skimmers

Getting into a payment terminal is not easy and exposes the scammer to security cameras and authorities, so some skimmers adapt directly to the existing card reader. Enterprising criminals also set up a hidden camera nearby to record PIN codes entered by people using the machine. An even smarter method is a fake PIN pad that fits over the real one.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Kamloops, Canada

There are a few precautions you can take to avoid falling victim to a skimmer:

  • Stay up to date – Examine the speakers, monitor, lock, card reader, keypad and any other component for scratches, glue, or other signs of tampering.
  • Spy eye – Holes that don’t seem out of place can hide a camera.
  • It does not belong – Does a component seem strangely out of place? It may be a color or material that contrasts with other parts of the machine. It could be sitting weird or obscuring any graphics or icons on the machine which should be seen clearly.
  • The shake test – Try to shake the card reader without inserting your card. Does this sound wobbly? If so, don’t use it.
  • Watch out for broken seals – At the gas station, check the security seals on the gasoline pump panels. The seal will be considered void if the door has been opened.
  • Debit card tip – When using a debit card for payment, use it like a credit card so you don’t have to enter your PIN code.
  • Look around – Check nearby machines to make a comparison.
  • Is this area safe? – Avoid using the machines in less frequented or shady places. Machines indoors are generally safer than those outdoors.
  • Report incidents – If you notice anything suspicious, report it to the bank or company that operates the machines.

National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) and Conexxus

How to pay safely at the pump

You can avoid using cards entirely at the gas station. Cash is an option, but do people still carry a lot of cash? Apple Pay and Google Pay let you add a credit or debit card to your phone, which you can then use in place of a card. Tap or click here to learn how to set up mobile payments.

Apple Pay is built into iPhone, Apple Watch, Mac, and iPad. You don’t need to download any app. Google Pay can be downloaded to your Android phone, tablet or watch and is also available for iOS. Regardless of the payment method, all you need to do is hold your device near the payment reader and confirm the transaction via a PIN, password, fingerprint or face scan.

Some gas stations have their own payment apps and even offer fuel rewards. Discover the applications of BP, Chevron, Exxon and Shell.

What to do if you get ripped off

Monitor your bank accounts for anything out of place. If you find something, call your bank or credit / debit card company using the phone number on the back of your card. Mobile banking makes it easy to verify your account anytime. Make it a regular habit!

The law limits your liability if your card information is stolen, but it usually depends on how quickly you report it. The card issuer may contact you about suspicious activity, but it might be too late by then. Hope you find out about the scam before the scammer does anything with your information.

Do you want to know if your information is circulating? Sites like HaveIBeenPwned help you control yourself. Simply visit the site and enter your phone number or email address. Tap or click here for more details.

About Darnell Yu

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