(WSFA/CONSUMER REPORTS) - Criminals have made off with as much as 3 billion dollars worldwide using devices that skim important information from credit and debit cards.
The use of skimmers at ATMs has exploded -- more than 5 times higher last year than the year before.
Mary Marichak had no idea crucial financial information was copied from her debit card when she swiped it at an ATM recently. The first sign of trouble --
her debit card was rejected when she tried to pay for gas. She recalls "So I ran home to check my account and realized that money was missing from my account and then the lightbulb went off that something weird had happened."
A police detective said the thieves used a skimmer to copy the card information and a tiny camera to record you typing in your PIN number.
Nikhil Hutheesing with Consumer Reports says "Most commonly the criminals remove the devices and then use the information to create a duplicate debit card that they can then use to drain your account."
Covering the PIN pad as you type is one way to thwart this scheme.
Now, there's a new type of skimming device that doesn't use a camera at all. It's a fake card reader that fits snugly over the real one you often find in stores. First it reads your card information and when you type in your PIN.
Detective James Lilla says "The PIN number is extracted and stored in the PIN pad overlay."
Hutheesing adds, "This type of point-of-sale skimmer is usually attached with double-sided tape. So if you can tug it loose, don't use it. And be sure to report it to store management."
This tangle of elastic bands is another type of skimmer but you wouldn't be able to spot it as it is placed deep inside a gas pump.
Increasingly, ATMs are also being compromised by devices called deep-insert skimmers – that can't be detected from the outside but that steal your information just the same.
Detective Lilla says, "The bad guys will insert a skimmer way deep into the mouth of the ATM, so as a customer you will never see it."
Chip cards with their improved security features are safer to use but only if just the chip end is inserted into the card reader.
One of your best protections is to constantly monitor your bank accounts online for suspicious activity, as Mary did, and report any concerns immediately to the financial institution's fraud department.
Mary got all of her money back from the credit union.