I’ve always been fascinated with ATM “skimmer” technology and innovation. I don’t know why but these offline hacks in the real world, versus in the digital space, just feel so much more “Mission Impossible”. I’m always amazed that even while knowing cameras are likely rolling, bad actors will manufacture these devices, stroll up, install them, then site back and reap the benefits.
Skimming is the theft of payment card information used in an otherwise legitimate transaction. The thief can procure a victim’s card number using basic methods such as photocopying receipts or more advanced methods such as using a small electronic device (skimmer) to swipe and store hundreds of victims’ card numbers. Common scenarios for skimming are restaurants or bars where the skimmer has possession of the victim’s payment card out of their immediate view. The thief may also use a small keypad to unobtrusively transcribe the 3 or 4 digit Card Security Code, which is not present on the magnetic strip.
If you really want the down low, Brian Krebs has compiled a complete section of posts, All About Skimmers, at krebsonsecurity.com. This is where I stay up to date on, and continually fascinated by, the latest techniques in skimming by fraudsters.
I recommend you peruse Brian’s posts, and in particular his latest: More ATM “Insert Skimmer” Innovations
One thing I took away from Brian’s wise words is the TL:DR summary about how to protect yourself. It’s very hard to determine if a machine has a skimmer – so assume you are being skimmed. However, your card info does no real good w/out the pin – so, be KEENLY aware of any wonkiness w/ the keypad and otherwise simply COVER THE KEYPAD AREA with your free hand while you punch in your code. This protects against teeny camera’s planted to simply view your pin. Sure, you may look a little nutty, but given the prevalance of these skimmers, that’s a great trade off from having your ATM account CLEANED OUT.
That’s my PSA for the day on personal privacy and security. See more from Brian Krebs: