With the recent outbreak of data breaches at retail locations and restaurants, it doesn't feel safe to swipe your credit/debit card anywhere. It seems like we are risking our banking information to hackers and identity thieves each time we use them.
This raises the question, is it time to stop using cards altogether and go back to cash? While we don't think you should abandon plastic entirely, there are some places where using cash is better for security.
That's why you need to know these seven risky places to swipe your debit card.
1. Skimming ATMs
Let's begin by discussing a bit of security advice that you might find ironic. The place that you go to get cash could be stealing your information. We are talking about your ATM.
Criminals have perfected disguising and installing what are called "skimmers." These fit over the card reader on an ATM and snag your account data when you swipe your card. Then, a small camera over the ATM keypad records your PIN when you punch it in.
Spotting a skimmer is hard. Your best defense is to get your cash from a teller. If the bank isn't open, only use an ATM that's in a restricted-access foyer.
You should also hold your hand over the keypad when you enter your PIN. This blocks any camera from seeing what you're doing. Click here to see how effective this simple trick is.
2. Gas stations
ATMs aren't the only places criminals can install card skimmers. In fact, gas stations are a favorite target for thieves.
The tiny, almost invisible skimming devices are installed inside or on a gas pump's debit/credit card slot. When a customer swipes their card, the skimmer reads the account information from the magnetic strip.
The criminal then retrieves the information every few days by driving by the compromised gas stations and remotely grabbing the card data wirelessly via Bluetooth. Since you still have your card with you, you won't even know that your information was stolen until unauthorized charges start appearing. Alarming stuff indeed.
Using a debit card PIN at a gas pump is dangerous. Use a credit card instead since credit card transactions are easier to reverse, and you're only liable for up to $50 of fraudulent purchases.
You can also pay inside the gas station with a card, which is much less risky. For the ultimate safety though, pay in cash.
The vast majority of waiters and waitresses are trustworthy, hard-working people, so be nice to them and tip well for their good service. But today I'm talking about the few servers who aren't so trustworthy.
Over the past few years, there have been a number of stories about unscrupulous servers bringing handheld card skimmers to work. They swipe customer card information and use it to make fraudulent purchases later.
Low-tech thieves just write down the card number or take the card outright, which usually doesn't end well for them. From local hole-in-the-wall diners to high-end New York eateries, no place seems to be safe. I know a few people who had their card information stolen at a range of pizza joints.
Even if the employees are trustworthy, many restaurants use older point-of-sale systems. These are easy for hackers to install card-swipe software on.