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Consumer Alert: Learn to Spot Card Skimmers

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By Ephrat Livni, Esq. on November 05, 2015 2:55 PM

A national convenience store chain announced last month that during a routine inspection of gas pumps, it discovered some credit card skimming devices. Casey's General Stores, Inc. -- which has 1900 stores across 14 states -- said that it found six card skimmers in Nebraska locations and one in Iowa, The Des Moines Register reported.

The company has informed credit card companies but does not know if any information was compromised. "We are committed to maintaining a safe and secure environment for our customers and will continue to work with federal, state and local authorities in this investigation," said Casey's Chairman and CEO Robert J. Myers in a statement.

Card Skimmers Explained

Card skimmers are "malicious card readers" that collect data from a debit or credit card's magnetic stripe and can be used to create clone credit cards or directly access bank accounts. Thieves install the skimming device, generally smaller than a deck of cards, which fits over a standard reader. Some skimmers have a camera in them and some thieves install a fake pinpad over the keyboard so they do not even need the camera.

""Classic skimming attacks are here to stay," and will probably remain a problem even after banks make the shift to chip and PIN cards for consumer protection, Stefan Tanase, a security researcher at Kaspersky Lab, told PC Magazine. He explained that chip cards will still contain data on magnetic strip to maintain compatibility with systems that don't handle chips.

Spotting a Skimmer

You can spot a skimmer yourself if you know what to look for. When standing at a bank of ATMs, for example, cast a glance around you. Do the machines look identical or does there seem to be something different about yours?

Check the gaps in which cards are entered -- are they all the same? If one ATM has a flashing card entry and another does not, you may be dealing with a skimmer. If the keyboard feels thick or awkward, that is another sign the bank machine may have been tampered with.

If you notice anything strange, notify the bank. Similarly, if you notice any strange activity on your cards, contact the associated financial institutions promptly.

Monitor Your Card Activity

While the Casey's credit card skimming scandal seems relatively limited, the recent discovery should be a reminder to all consumers to be vigilant. Whether you are using your credit card at a gas tank, a convenience store, an ATM, or a vending machine, be conscious of what you spend and know what to expect on your bills.

Consider making it a habit to check your accounts online -- and this applies to both credit and debit cards -- so that it will become easy for you to spot suspect activity. Unusual purchases will stand out less when you only look at your bills regularly and before they are due.

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