By Diana Palmieri
It’s not enough that gas prices continue to gouge our wallets; on top of that, there are thieves trying to get ahold of your personal information through a process called “skimming.” I am not talking about cleaning bugs out of your swimming pool. I am talking about potential “bugs” that are placed within a gas pump or ATM that electronically skim and record your account number off your debit or credit card.
Criminals set up these skimming devices within an ATM, gas pump, or even a retail store keypad to essentially steal your checking account information. It only takes them a few minutes to set up. These devices look very much like the swipe opening we are all used to seeing and using. At the same time, a tiny camera is usually installed within the light over the keypad, or within a fake pamphlet holder, to visually capture you as you enter your PIN and voila--the thief has your information! The latest news in cyber-thievery is that crooks are now manipulating old parts from MP3 players to record the sounds (the beeps you hear when you enter your code) to steal your PIN as well.
How do you protect yourself? Here are some key rules to follow:
- Go into the gas station and pay direct for your gas.
- If your only alternative is to pay at the pump, use a credit card. You don’t have to put in a PIN code, and credit card companies have better expedient consumer protections in place than if money was taken from your checking account. Stolen money from a checking account will usually involve the police and take much longer to rectify.
- Choose an ATM that is popular, preferably in a monitored bank lobby. If the ATM is located in a local convenience store or supermarket, make sure that it’s in view of a clerk.
- Cover the keypad when entering your PIN. As I mentioned, sneaky thieves have found ways to videotape you while you are entering your PIN.
- Look for any alternations to the machine such as plastic overlays on the keypad or dried glue. Wiggle the swipe reader to make sure it’s secure. If there is anything that does not look right, make sure you tell the owner of the machine AND contact the police (the clerk may not call the authorities so quickly, especially if he or she is involved in the scam).
- Keep track of your bank or credit card account, and report anything out of the ordinary.
Many other countries such as Europe and Canada have done away with the magnetic strip technology we are all so familiar with. They use something called the EMV standard (short for Europay Mastercard Visa standard). This simply involves a chip and PIN way of payment and cannot be skimmed. Proponents say it’s time for the United States to go this way. As other countries move over to the EMV standard way, we will most likely see more of these crimes happening here, as the thieves know where they can still get away with skimming and stealing.
Looking at some research and figures, it would be quite costly for the United States to make the move. Javelin Strategy & Research estimates an EMV rollout across the United States would cost about $8.6 billion, which includes the following:
- POS terminal replacements--approximately $6.75 billion.
- EMV card issuance--around $1.4 billion.
- ATM upgrades--approximately $500 million.
- In light of these costs, I am guessing the EMV revolution for the United States is going to be pushed very far down the road. Because of this, it is up to us, the consumers, to be ever-vigilant against these thieves.
Diana Palmieri is dually registered with Vanderbilt Securities LLC and H Beck Inc., which are unaffiliated. Securities offered through Vanderbilt Securities LLC, member SIPC/FINRA/MSRB.