The rash of recent card-skimming incidents, such as the one revealed last week involving some 80 Michaels craft stores, reveals just how vulnerable debit and credit cards are to fraud, even if you never lose the card itself.
In part, that’s because American credit- and debit-card data are usually stored unencrypted on a magnetic stripe on the back of each card, which thieves can easily and cheaply copy; the more lax security makes them more vulnerable to card skimming. The U.S. and some non-industrialized countries in Africa are among the only nations still relying on magstripe payment cards. China has announced that it will no longer produce or accept such cards after 2015.
That’s what Consumer Reports revealed in its article “House of Cards” on skimming in its June 2011 issue, which focused on “Your Security.”
Here are three simple rules to protect yourself against card-skimming schemes:
1. Avoid unfamiliar ATMs. Thieves have been known to put out-of-order signs on legitimate ATMs and set up nearby freestanding bogus ones that "skim" data from your card. ATMs located inside banks within view of surveillance cameras aren't risk-free, but they pose more challenges for crooks installing skimming equipment.
2. Cover your code. When typing your PIN into an ATM or card reader, use your free hand to shield the keypad from the view of hidden cameras or anyone nearby.
3. Use the credit card option. Card-skimming at gas stations is likely to increase during summer months, especially in vacation areas, so use cash or credit cards at the pumps if possible. If you must use a debit card, select the option to have the purchase processed as a credit-card transaction rather than typing in your PIN. That choice is available at many point-of sale terminals.
Summer is also a prime time for scams and thefts, so learn how to protect your property and yourself, to avoid becoming an easy target.