September 13, 2023

Unmasking the Silent Threat: Credit Card Skimming

Learn about credit card skimming, a stealthy cybercrime where fraudsters steal your card information

Did you know that the number of skimming incidents reported in the United States increased by 159% from 2015 to 2020? In our increasingly interconnected world, the convenience of digital payments has revolutionized how we conduct financial transactions. However, alongside this convenience comes the lurking threat of credit card skimming—a stealthy and insidious form of fraud that can wreak havoc on individuals' financial lives. Credit card skimming involves the surreptitious capture of sensitive card information, leading to unauthorized transactions, drained bank accounts, and shattered financial security. 

In this article, we delve into the depths of credit card skimming, shedding light on its various forms, methods, and consequences. 

But before we get into the topic, it is recommended to first read about the 8 types of credit card frauds in detail by Bright Money!

Armed with this knowledge, you'll be better equipped to protect yourself and your hard-earned money from the clutches of these cyber criminals.

How to Know You Have Been a Victim of Card Skimming?

Card skimming is a deceptive practice where criminals use a device to capture data from your credit or debit card's magnetic stripe without your knowledge. Here are some signs that you may have fallen victim to card skimming:

  • Unauthorized Transactions: Review your bank or credit card statements regularly. If you notice unfamiliar or unauthorized transactions, it could be a sign that your card data has been compromised
  • Unusual Card Behavior: If your card is declined when you typically have sufficient funds or if it is unexpectedly blocked, it might indicate suspicious activity
  • ATM or Gas Pump Inspection: Examine ATMs, gas pumps, and point-of-sale terminals for any loose or suspicious attachments, which could be skimming devices
  • Card Reader Irregularities: If the card reader on an ATM or payment terminal looks different or damaged, don't use it. Skimming devices are often attached on top of legitimate card readers
  • Unexpected Calls or Messages: Be cautious of unsolicited calls or messages from your bank or credit card company asking about recent transactions. Scammers may use this tactic to gather more information.

What to Immediately Do After a Skimming Attack?

If you suspect that you have fallen victim to card skimming, taking prompt action is crucial to minimize potential damage:

  1. Contact Your Bank or Card Issuer: Notify your bank or credit card issuer immediately. They can freeze your account to prevent further unauthorized transactions and guide you through the next steps
  1. File a Police Report: Report the incident to your local law enforcement agency. A police report can be crucial for investigating the crime
  1. Document Details: Gather all relevant information, including the location where you used your card, any suspicious devices or individuals you noticed, and the date and time of your last legitimate transaction
  1. Monitor Your Accounts: Continuously monitor your bank and credit card statements for any additional unauthorized transactions
  1. Change Your PIN and Passwords: Change your ATM PIN and any online banking or payment platform passwords associated with the compromised card
  1. Consider Card Replacement: Ask your bank or card issuer for a replacement card with a new card number
  1. Be Cautious with Personal Information: Be wary of sharing personal information with anyone who contacts you about the incident. Scammers may attempt to exploit the situation further

Remember that the sooner you take action, the better your chances of limiting the impact of card skimming on your finances and personal information.

What is Credit Card Skimming?

Credit card skimming refers to the illegal practice of obtaining sensitive financial information from the magnetic stripe of a credit or debit card. This information is then used by criminals to make unauthorized transactions or create cloned cards.

Skimming can occur in various ways, such as through physical devices installed on card readers or by hacking into online payment systems to intercept card details during transactions. It's a deceptive method used by fraudsters to gain access to individuals' financial data without their knowledge or consent

In New York, between January of 2022 and March of 2023, $7 million was stolen, with more than 10,000 complaints of skimming. Recent examples include skimming at gas stations, data breaches in restaurants and hotels, ATM skimming, and e-commerce website breaches. These incidents highlight the various ways and locations where credit card skimming can occur, underscoring the need for vigilance and protective measures.

What are the Types of Credit Card Skimming?

There are different types of credit card skimming techniques that fraudsters use to steal sensitive financial information:

1. Traditional Skimming

Traditional skimming involves the physical placement of a small device, known as a skimmer, on top of a legitimate card reader. These skimmers are often designed to blend in with the appearance of the original card reader, making them difficult to detect. When a person swipes their card through the compromised reader, the skimmer captures and stores the information encoded in the card's magnetic stripe, which includes the cardholder's name, card number, and expiration date. Criminals then retrieve this data from the skimmer and use it to create counterfeit cards or conduct fraudulent transactions. 

Traditional skimming is often used at ATMs, gas station pumps, and other point-of-sale terminals.

2. Insert Skimming

Insert skimming involves a more discreet approach, where criminals install a device within the card slot of ATMs or point-of-sale terminals. This device is often equipped with components that can read the card's magnetic stripe as it is inserted into the compromised slot. This type of skimming is harder to detect because the device is hidden inside the machine. 

Insert skimming may also include a small camera strategically placed to capture the user's PIN as they enter it on the keypad. Criminals then combine the stolen card data and PIN to perform unauthorized transactions.

3. Digital Skimming

Digital skimming, also known as online skimming or Magecart attacks, targets e-commerce websites and online payment platforms. Cybercriminals exploit vulnerabilities in the website's code to inject malicious scripts or malware. These scripts are designed to capture the card information entered by users during the online checkout process. The stolen data is then transmitted to the attacker's server. 

This method is particularly challenging to detect because it doesn't require physical access to card readers. Users may unknowingly enter their card details on a compromised website, allowing criminals to harvest the information for fraudulent purposes.

Protecting yourself from threats like digital skimming is essential as you navigate the digital landscape. However, if you're already burdened by credit card debt, Bright Money can be your trusted partner in achieving financial freedom.

Bright Money provides cutting-edge solutions to assist you in managing and paying off your credit card debt more effectively. Through customized strategies and professional advice, Bright Money enables you to take charge of your finances and liberate yourself from the burden of debt.

How to Know You Have Been a Victim of Card Skimming? Bright

Places Where Skimming Occurs Most Frequently

Credit card skimming can occur in various locations, but there are certain places where these incidents tend to happen more frequently due to factors like high foot traffic, remote locations, or less secure setups. Here are some of the places where skimming occurs most frequently:

1. Gas Stations

Gas station pumps are prime targets for skimming due to their remote locations and minimal supervision. Criminals can easily install skimming devices on the card readers at these pumps, taking advantage of customers' lack of attention. It's recommended to inspect card readers for any signs of tampering before using them.

2. ATMs

ATMs, especially those located in less secure areas, are vulnerable to skimming. Criminals can install skimming devices and hidden cameras on or around ATMs to capture card data and PINs. Be cautious and cover the keypad when entering your PIN to thwart hidden camera recording.

3. Restaurants and Retail Stores

Handheld payment devices used in restaurants and retail stores can also be compromised. Criminals may discreetly capture card information during transactions. It's important to keep an eye on your card during the payment process and avoid handing it over to anyone who might have malicious intentions.

4. Public Transport Ticket Machines

Ticket machines for public transport services, such as buses and trains, can be targeted by skimmers. Since people often use these machines for quick transactions, they might not pay close attention to the card readers. Always inspect the card reader before using it.

5. Outdoor ATMs or Kiosks

Outdoor ATMs or self-service kiosks are more vulnerable to skimming due to limited surveillance. Criminals can easily install skimming devices on these machines without being noticed. Be cautious when using such machines and look for any unusual attachments.

6. Tourist Areas

Skimmers often target areas with a high number of tourists, as visitors might be less familiar with the local environment and more prone to falling for scams. Tourist areas can include popular landmarks, entertainment venues, and shopping districts.

7. Festivals and Events

Large gatherings, festivals, and events provide ample opportunities for criminals to install skimming devices on temporary payment terminals. The high volume of transactions and distracted attendees make it easier for skimmers to go unnoticed.

8. Unattended Terminals

Terminals that are not closely monitored, such as self-checkout machines in supermarkets or parking payment kiosks, can be targeted by skimmers. Criminals take advantage of the lack of oversight to install skimming devices.

9. Outdoor Payment Terminals

Payment terminals located outdoors, such as those for parking fees or outdoor markets, are often less secure and can be more vulnerable to skimming attempts.

10. Remote Areas

Skimming can occur more frequently in remote or less populated areas where surveillance is minimal, making it easier for criminals to install and retrieve skimming devices without detection.

Consequences of Credit Card Skimming

Credit card skimming can have serious consequences for individuals and their financial well-being. Here are the potential consequences that victims of credit card skimming might face:

  • Unauthorized Purchases: When criminals obtain your credit card information through skimming, they can use it to make purchases without your consent. This could result in unexpected charges showing up on your account, causing financial distress and confusion as you try to identify the unauthorized transactions
  • Drained Bank Accounts: Skimmers may not only make purchases but also withdraw cash from ATMs using your stolen card data. This can quickly deplete your bank account, leaving you without access to your own funds
  • Damaged Credit Scores: Fraudulent activities stemming from credit card skimming can lead to unpaid debts, missed payments, and increased credit card balances. These negative impacts on your credit history can lower your credit score, making it even harder to secure loans or credit for the future
  • Emotional Stress: The discovery of unauthorized transactions can lead to emotional stress and anxiety. Feeling violated by the intrusion into your financial life can cause emotional turmoil that extends beyond just monetary concerns
  • Identity Theft: Credit card skimming can lead to broader identity theft, where criminals use your personal information to open new accounts, apply for loans, or commit other types of fraud in your name. This can have far-reaching consequences and require extensive efforts to rectify
  • Disrupted Finances: Dealing with the aftermath of credit card skimming can disrupt your financial stability. You may need to allocate time and resources to resolve fraudulent transactions, recover lost funds, and restore your financial health
  • Legal and Administrative Hassles: Victims of credit card skimming often need to navigate complex legal processes to dispute unauthorized transactions and clear their name from fraudulent activities. This can involve dealing with banks, credit card companies, and even law enforcement agencies
  • Time-Consuming Resolution: The process of resolving issues caused by credit card skimming can be time-consuming. You might need to spend hours on the phone with your bank, filling out paperwork, and monitoring your accounts for further suspicious activity
  • Loss of Trust: Falling victim to credit card skimming can erode your trust in financial institutions and digital payment methods. Some individuals might opt for cash transactions to avoid further exposure, impacting their convenience and financial habits
  • Cost of Reimbursement: While many financial institutions offer reimbursement for unauthorized transactions, victims might still face temporary financial strain before the issue is fully resolved and the funds are returned to their account
  • Personal Information Exposure: Credit card skimming often involves the exposure of personal and sensitive information. This not only increases the risk of financial fraud but also potentially compromises other aspects of your digital identity
  • Relationship Strain: The stress and financial strain caused by credit card skimming can spill over into personal relationships. Discussing financial issues with family members or partners can strain these relationships, especially if joint accounts or shared expenses are involved.

Facing the consequences of credit card skimming or any financial crisis can be daunting. That's where Bright Money steps in as your trusted ally. While we can't prevent credit card skimming, we can help you navigate the aftermath with financial tools and guidance designed to improve your overall financial health.

Bright Money's mission is to empower individuals like you to regain control of your finances, whether you're dealing with the fallout from credit card skimming or seeking to manage your debt proactively. 

Protecting Yourself from Credit Card Skimming

Protecting yourself from credit card skimming requires vigilance and proactive measures to safeguard your financial information. Here's how you can take steps to prevent falling victim to this type of fraud:

1. Inspect the Card Reader

Before using any card reader, whether at an ATM or a point-of-sale terminal, take a close look at it. Check for any unusual attachments, loose parts, or inconsistencies in the design. If something looks off, don't use that machine and report it to the appropriate authorities.

2. Cover the Keypad

When entering your PIN at an ATM or a payment terminal, use your hand or body to shield the keypad from prying eyes and hidden cameras. This simple action can prevent criminals from capturing your PIN and pairing it with your card's information.

3. Be Cautious of Unusual Devices

Be wary of any devices that seem out of place, especially if they are attached to the card reader or the keypad. Skimmers often use discreetly installed devices to capture card data. If you notice anything unusual, stop using that machine.

4. Use Contactless Payments

Whenever possible, opt for contactless payment methods like mobile wallets or chip-enabled cards. These methods use encrypted technology that's more secure than traditional magnetic stripe transactions.

5. Regularly Monitor Your Accounts

Examine your credit card and bank statements closely. Check your transactions often in order to spot any fraudulent activity. Make quick touch with your credit card provider or bank if you see anything fishy.

6. Avoid Using Unfamiliar ATMs

Stick to ATMs that are located in well-lit, secure areas, such as those within bank branches. Avoid using ATMs in remote or less-populated locations, as they may be more susceptible to skimming attempts.

7. Update Your Card Information

If your bank offers it, consider opting for cards with EMV chips. These chips provide an extra layer of security by generating unique transaction codes for each use, making it harder for skimmers to clone your card.

8. Educate Yourself

Stay informed about the latest skimming techniques and trends. Knowledge is your best defense against falling victim to these types of scams.

9. Use Trusted Websites for Online Transactions:

When making online purchases, use reputable and secure websites. Look for "https://" in the website's URL and check for trust symbols like padlocks to ensure your connection is encrypted.

10. Enable Transaction Notifications

Set up transaction alerts through your bank's mobile app or online banking platform. This way, you'll receive real-time notifications of any transactions, allowing you to take immediate action if you detect something unusual.

While protecting yourself from credit card skimming is paramount, addressing any existing credit card debt that might compound financial risks is equally crucial. Bright Money offers comprehensive solutions to help you achieve financial security by managing your debt and safeguarding your financial well-being.

Bright Money provides personalized debt payoff strategies tailored to your unique financial situation. By optimizing your debt payments, Bright Money helps you regain control of your finances, making you less vulnerable to the financial consequences of credit card skimming or other unforeseen challenges.

How to protect yourself from Credit Card Skimming? Bright


In an era where technology offers us unparalleled convenience, it's crucial to remain vigilant against the threats that accompany it. The global losses due to credit card fraud amounted to over $27 billion in 2021 alone. Credit card skimming is a reminder that even as we embrace the digital landscape, we must also fortify our defenses against those who seek to exploit it. By staying informed about the tactics employed by skimmers, you empower yourself to take preventative measures, whether it's inspecting card readers, covering keypads, or using secure payment methods. 

Bright Money stands as your trusted partner in this digital age, offering not only financial solutions but also robust defenses against financial exploitation. We understand the significance of staying informed about the tactics employed by skimmers and fraudsters, and we empower you with knowledge to take proactive measures.

As we navigate the dynamic world of digital finance, let us remember that knowledge is the ultimate weapon in our fight against credit card skimming and other financial frauds. Safeguarding our financial well-being requires not only technological advancements but also the unwavering commitment to protecting our own interests.

Recommended Reads:

How do credit cards build credit?

10 traps to avoid while building credit

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Q1: What is credit card skimming?

Credit card skimming is a form of fraud where criminals capture your credit card information, often through deceptive methods like installing hidden devices on card readers, to make unauthorized transactions.

Q2: How do criminals use my stolen card information?

Criminals use the stolen card information to make unauthorized purchases, withdraw cash from ATMs, or even clone your card for future fraudulent transactions.

Q3: Where does credit card skimming commonly occur?

Credit card skimming can happen at various locations, including ATMs, gas stations, retail stores, and even online websites. Criminals target places with high foot traffic and opportunities for discreet installation of skimming devices.

Q4: How can I protect myself from credit card skimming?

You can protect yourself by inspecting card readers for any signs of tampering, covering the keypad when entering your PIN, using contactless payment methods, and regularly monitoring your accounts for unauthorized transactions.

Q5: What should I do if I suspect credit card skimming?

If you suspect unauthorized activity on your account, contact your credit card company or the bank immediately to report the issue. They can help you take the necessary steps to secure your account and initiate a fraud investigation.

Q6: Are EMV chip cards more secure against skimming?

Skimming is a criminal offense, and those caught engaging in such activities can face legal consequences, including imprisonment and fines, depending on the jurisdiction and severity of the crime.

Q7: Can mobile payment apps be compromised by skimming?

While mobile payment apps like digital wallets are generally secure, it's essential to ensure you're using the official app from a reputable provider. Be cautious about sharing your payment information on unfamiliar apps or websites.

Q8: What legal actions can be taken against caught skimmers?

Skimming is a criminal offense, and those caught engaging in such activities can face legal consequences, including fines and imprisonment, depending on the jurisdiction and severity of the crime.

Q9: Does insurance cover losses from credit card skimming?

Many credit card companies and banks offer reimbursement for losses resulting from unauthorized transactions. However, it's essential to review your bank's policies and terms to understand the extent of coverage.

Q10: How can I stay informed about the latest skimming techniques?

Stay updated by following reliable sources of cybersecurity news and awareness campaigns. Organizations like banks, law enforcement agencies, and cybersecurity experts often share information to help individuals stay ahead of evolving skimming techniques.



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