When you think about protecting your family and yourself from criminals, you probably envision a scary man approaching you with a gun. Or he breaks into your house. He might demand your money or wallet.
You hand it over and, hopefully, he leaves and you're all safe. As frightening as that is to imagine, you know the loss of your money and credit cards is nothing if it means protecting your family.
Unfortunately, crimes these days don't always happen in the open like that. It's a cyber world where criminals are remotely stealing your money. They could be thousands of miles away and infecting your computers with malware.
Or they could be sitting in their car in the parking lot as you're shopping in a supermarket or drug store. Or they could be home relaxing a few miles away while you're taking money out of the ATM or swiping your card at the gas pump. They're still getting your money and you won't even know it until you check you check your bank balance.
This credit card skimming crime is surging. Try this the next time you're on Google News. Type in "credit card skimmers" and you won't believe how many of these crimes are happening every day all around the country.
Just this week, skimmers have been found in stores and gas stations in Arizona, Idaho, Michigan, New York, Ohio and elsewhere.
Here's how this crime works. Criminals install a phony magnetic strip reader called a skimmer on top of real card readers. They're doing it wherever you swipe your credit card or debit card to make a payment or to withdraw money. (Click here to read about credit card skimmers found in Walmart stores.)
The skimmer reads all the information you have stored on the card's black strip on the back it. They also steal your personal identification number (PIN). All they need is a little bit of software and the skimmer itself and they can clone your cards to make new ones, or just drain your bank account.
Note: You won't believe how fast crooks can install a skimmer. Watch this guy install one at a convenience store when the clerk turns his back for just three seconds. (Click here for more details about this credit card skimming crime.)
This skimmer was used at a major supermarket chain. Click here to read more about it.
This is scary, but the reason I'm telling you about this is because it's easy to prevent being the next victim of this crime. Here's how to spot credit card skimmers.
A lot of credit card skimmers are made with 3-D printers or they're created from molds. Before you swipe your card, look at the card reader. If the quality is bad or the machine looks like it was printed, don't use it. Ask the clerk to have a manager check it.
Plus, look for cameras. Some skimmers have cameras attached to record you typing in your PIN. See below. This is credit card skimmer camera that was being used on a New York City subway station.
Unfortunately, a lot of credit card skimmers don't look this bad. Criminals are starting to create skimmers that are nearly impossible to discover. The point is, no matter how many precautions you take, criminals are one step ahead of you.
Don't panic. Here are three easy steps to make sure you're not a victim of the next credit card skimmer crime.
Here's what you must do to stay safe
1. Shield yourself
When you're typing in your PIN number, block your typing from view with your other hand.
2. Use EMV cards
Don't use credit cards with the black strip on the back. The credit card industry is switching over to EMV chip cards because the black magnetic strips are so easy for criminals to steal.
For security, EMV chip cards don't store your personal information. Instead, it creates a unique transaction ID each time you use it. Even if a criminal finds that transaction ID, it can't be used again.
Please note that that switch over from credit card strips to EMV chips is voluntary. If your bank or credit card hasn't updated your cards to EMV yet, call them and tell them you want an EMV chip card right now. Until you receive your new card, don't use your old credit cards or debit cards.
3. Use digital wallet
Just like EMV cards, digital wallets like Apple Pay, Android Pay and Samsung Pay create unique transaction codes. They don't store your personal information. If you're in a store that accepts these increasingly popular digital wallets, use them.
4. Identity theft protection
Make sure you sign up for an ID protection service, if you don't already have one. These companies do more than just monitor your transactions, they alert you to suspicious activity and walk you through reclaiming your identity.