Tips to spot a skimming device on that debit card reader

Tips to spot a skimming device on that debit card reader »Play Video
SEATTLE -- Thieves looking for fast cash are increasingly turning to electronic skimming devices to secretly snatch account information at debit and ATMs.

Banks and retailers downplay the problem but they know it's on the rise.

The skimming devices are tough to spot. They're nearly exact duplicates of actual card readers- installed right on top of the real thing.

The devices are attached in a matter of seconds with the help of double-stick tape.

Pass your card through, and you're essentially swiping it twice. Then, hidden cameras record your pin code as you punch in the numbers.

Thieves are placing them on point of sale debit machines at gas stations and on free standing ATMs.

According to security system giant Diebold Inc., skimming losses account for more than a billion dollars a year worldwide.

To fight back, Boeing Employees Credit Union just installed anti-skimming devices on all its local ATMs.

BECU Security Risk Manger John Snodgrass says the new green card readers are hard to miss, and tougher to tamper with.

"We put these things on there so the skimmer can't set flush to that (the card reader) any longer," he said. "They'd have to build a skimmer specifically to go around that."

But while more business like BECU are taking anti-skimming precautions to protect customer, thousands of retail debit and ATMs are still vulnerable. So before you swipe your card, take a closer look.

"A skimming device will come off in your hands if there is one on there," explained Snodgrass.

Security experts say run your hands around the machine and feel for loose parts. Test the card reader for any signs of movement. And be on the look out for fake keypads placed over the exiting keypad. Snodgrass says that's another skimming tactic.

"They lay out a duplicate keypad that would capture the pin numbers," he says. "They'd match that up with the information from the skimming device and be able to take money out of your account."

You should also be on the lookout for fake speaker covers or other odd devices placed above the keypad. Police in Pennsylvania recently discovered a fake speaker cover, concealing a PDA wired with a hidden camera to capture security codes.

Another tip: When you punch in your code, use something to cover your hands and obscure the numbers.

Local police say thieves are often staked out nearby, waiting to retrieve their bogus devices and transfer the information to stolen, inactivated gift cards, which they sell, or use to wipe out bank accounts.

Some final tips:

* Security experts say whenever possible, use an ATM you're familiar with so you'll be more likely to catch something that looks out of place.

* Always record your transactions. Scammers have been known to make small purchases close to the amount of your transaction, so you'll be less likely to suspect fraud.

* Finally, ask your bank, credit union, retailer or gas station what they're doing to deter or prevent card skimming.