Staying protected from cybercriminals is something everyone needs to stay on top of now that we're living in a digital world. New data breaches, malware and phishing scams seem to be popping up constantly.
However, you don't have to be online for your personal data to be at risk. Thieves have been stealing credit and debit card information with the help of skimmers for years. Now, there is a scarier, almost undetectable version of the skimmer that you need to know about.
What is a shimmer?
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.
Skimmers are somewhat bulky, making them easy to spot for the well-educated consumer. This has led criminals to turn to the shimmer.
Shimmers are much smaller versions of a skimmer that fit easily inside an ATM or POS card reader. They are embedded with a microchip and flash storage, which allows them to steal your cards' data, including the PIN. This data is extracted at a later time when the thief returns and inserts a specially designed card that downloads the information.
This is what a shimmer looks like:
Image: shimmer found inside retailer's checkout card reader. (Source: RCMP)
The shimmer is super easy for the thief to install and is so thin, you won't be able to tell that it's inside the card reader. It also won't block the normal usage of your card.
Because these new devices are so small, they won't be limited to gas stations and ATMs. You can expect to see them popping up at grocery stores and retail locations, especially ones that offer self-checkout.
How can you stay protected?
For criminals to be successful using a skimmer, they need two things. First, they need to steal the data from your cards' magnetic strip. Then, they need your PIN, which is usually captured by a hidden camera located near the PIN pad.
Since the shimmer actually steals your PIN as well as your cards' data, covering your hand while entering the PIN won't help. This maneuver was one of the best ways for someone to defeat a skimmer.
With the advent of the shimmer, consumers only have a couple of defense options at their disposal:
- Frequently check bank statements - Now more than ever, it's important to stay vigilant in the fight against bank fraud. Stay on top of your bank statements and report any suspicious activity ASAP.
- Report theft - If you discover fraudulent activity with any of your financial accounts, report it immediately to your bank. Your financial institution should file a police report on your behalf; if not, report it to police on your own.
Another thing that could avoid both skimmers and shimmers is paying with your phone. Apps like Apple Pay and Android Pay make this possible. Read the links I've provided below to find out everything you need to know about both of these services.