6 Easy Ways to Protect Your Debit Card From Skimmers. You’ve no doubt heard news reports about debit card skimmers being found at certain retail or banking establishments. Card skimmers can be installed at ATMs, restaurants, gas payment terminals, and even store check-out lines. The phony equipment is small and can be hard to spot. Some card skimmers even include a phony keypad that fits over the real one to steal your PIN.
Your debit card account number can be stolen if you swipe your card in a skimmer. Unlike credit card transactions, debit cards may not offer much protection against fraudulent purchases. Your checking account could be emptied, and you might not be able to reverse the charges.
Your best defense against debit card skimmers is vigilance and awareness. Here are a few ways to protect yourself.
1. Spot a skimmer before you swipe
When using a card terminal, look it over before you swipe. It can be difficult to spot a well-hidden skimmer, but some clues can help.
If the terminal you are about to use does not match the other ones at the location, you might be looking at a skimmer. Number pads that look mismatched or are an odd size are a red flag. Press on the card receiver and wiggle the keypad; skimmers are designed to be retrieved quickly by thieves and may have loose parts. A keypad that is sitting on top of the machine rather than flush with the surface of it can also be a sign of a skimmer. If you’re at a gas station, look at the card scanner at the pump you’re about to use; ensure that the security tape is still intact over the panel before you insert your card.
When you’re choosing a payment terminal or ATM, go for one that is close to store employees, a security camera, or is in an open and well-lit area. These are less likely to have been tampered with by thieves that do not want to be noticed.
2. Dip, don’t swipe
If you have the option to insert your card into the payment terminal rather than swipe, do that. Chip cards, otherwise known as EMV cards, are much more secure since they do not pass your actual account numbers to the retailer. Even if someone steals the numbers from an EMV transaction, it is not useful to thieves since a unique number is generated for each transaction.
Some stores have not yet adopted chip readers and will still ask you to swipe your card through a magnetic card reader. If you swipe your debit card instead of dipping it, you risk your account information to skimmers. Some thieves have taken to “shimming” rather than skimming; tampering with chip reader machines by installing a paper shim to block the chip reader, forcing people to swipe their cards instead. If in doubt, pay with cash.