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Stop skimmers from stealing your money

Stop skimmers from stealing your money
photo courtesy of SHUTTERSTOCK

One of the more successful tools of 21st century crooks is the skimmer. Thieves attach them to ATMs, gas pumps and other places people swipe their credit and debit cards. Once in place, this sneaky bit of electronics steals the magnetic strip information from your card.

The thieves use this information to clone your card, and once they have a clone, they can drain your bank account, or run up huge bills and trash your credit before you even know it. That's one reason credit card companies and stores are switching to EMV cards, or "chip" cards, but it will take a while before every retailer supports them, which leaves you vulnerable.

How bad is skimming?

Using skimmers, thieves have stolen untold millions of dollars. Last year, four men were arrested for allegedly stealing $2.1 million using skimmers at gas stations across the South. Let's say the average gas transaction was $50. To rake in $2.1 million, they needed to skim approximately 42,000 transactions of people buying gas. That's a widespread, long-term threat.

It doesn't help that skimmers are available for sale to anyone who wants to buy them, so they can show up anywhere. Just glancing at the news for the last few months shows that skimmers were found at dozens of local gas stations in Detroit, St. Louis, various sites in Cincinnati, cities in Florida and ATMs at banks around the country. According to the New York Police, ATM skimmer use has tripled in Queens this year.

If you had any doubts, skimmers are out there and can be anywhere. So, how do you spot a skimmer before it snags your information? Here's what you need to look for.

Next page: Overlay skimmers
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