Credit card skimmers now much harder to spot, avoid

Skimmers are hard to detect, police say. (File)
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) Credit card skimmers have evolved from clumsy, visible devices to ones that can’t be seen outside a gas pump which makes avoiding them much harder, police say.

Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said skimmers are now very small and inserted inside the machine where they can’t be detected, although they can sometimes be detected using a Bluetooth device.

“You can’t see them from outside the pump because they’re inserted inside the machine and once it’s closed up, they’re invisible to customers,” Swanton said.

Experts say you can use your cellphone to search for Bluetooth devices and if a sequence of letters and numbers shows up you shouldn’t pay at the pump, but the method isn’t foolproof and offers what one says is minimal protection because while some skimmers use Bluetooth technology, others depend on cell service or store the data.

Point-of-sale devices that customers use every day including air pumps, ATMs and vending machines can be also compromised these days.

“It’s not unusual that the first notice someone has that they were skimmed is when they get their credit card bill,” Swanton said.

There still are signs, but users must look much closer.

“At most stations these days they put a piece of security tape on the pumps that says if it’s been broken, don’t use the machine,” Swanton said.

He said workers at gas stations sometimes don’t known their machines have been compromised until they do maintenance on the pumps and find the device inside.

The industry knows there’s an issue, as well.

“Some of the newer skimmers are almost impossible to see, even if you know what you’re looking for,” said David Tente, U.S. executive director of the ATM Industry Association.

He went on to say that instances of such fraud are increasing year-by-year.

“During 2017, the number of compromised ATMs and point-of-sale devices rose 8 percent,” he said.

“Meanwhile, the number of compromised cards climbed 10 percent.”

That news comes after a reported increase of 70 percent in the number of payment cards compromised in 2016.

Consumers are most likely to see these devices at gas pumps, ATMs or at ticket kiosks in metro stations, but if a card leaves your sight at a restaurant or department store, an employee could use a skimmer to get card info, too.

The national group says some ways to avoid skimmers include going inside the store to pay or get money, checking out the location carefully, inspecting the card reader, looking for hidden cameras that might record your PIN, using the right type of card and monitoring your accounts regularly.

If you see fraudulent charges on your statement, report it to the card company immediately and shut down the account.