SAFE February 14, 2024 at 6:00 AM

How to Protect Yourself From Skimmers

There’s a sneaky way that thieves steal your account information that everyone should be on the watch for: card skimmers.

Skimming refers to when a fraudster installs a device on an ATM or a point of sale (POS) machine that “skims” your account information from a credit card or debit card you use to make a transaction. Often, the thieves will also install a small camera to capture your PIN as you type it.

These devices are installed inside or on the physical machines themselves, making them difficult to detect. Examples include plastic overlays that go on top of the card terminal to subtly scan the card’s magnetic strip, and tiny cameras embedded into the device pad to capture PIN entries. The more devious devices are physically inserted inside an ATM or POS machine and can only be extracted with a special tool used by the fraudsters.

The thieves then take the information gathered on the skimming device and use it to make fraudulent transactions.

How to Spot a Skimming Device

  • Look for signs of a tampered machine. The plastic overlays, fake keypads and cameras are typically attached with an adhesive. If something seems loose or cheaply made, it's highly suspicious.
  • Test the equipment. If there’s something over a card reader that doesn’t belong, give it a quick tug. ATM and POS machines are well engineered to withstand decades of use. A fake item shoddily snapped or glued on will quickly fall off.
  • Difficulty inputting card. If your card does not easily go into the machine, there may be a skimming device hidden inside. Stop trying to use the machine and contact bank or store personnel immediately.

How to Protect Yourself from Skimming

Conduct transactions in person. If possible, pay inside or withdraw money directly from a teller. Fraudsters require an isolated ATM or POS machine for them to attach their devices. This is far less likely to occur with a machine that is being continuously observed by a person.

Cover your hand when inputting your PIN. Be sure to cover your hand when inputting your PIN in the event a fraudster has installed a camera nearby that is aimed at the pin pad.

Set account alerts. To monitor your banking account activity, enable alert functions for your bank accounts and credit and debit cards. At SAFE, we offer customized account and card transaction alerts that will send you a mobile app push notification, a text, or an email every time a purchase is made over a selected amount on your cards. SAFE members can set this as low as a penny on any transaction type, including card-not-present which is a purchase made remotely, without processing a physical card via a card reader or terminal. This is a great way to catch fraud charges almost in real-time and report the activity to your financial institution before it gets worse.

Turn off cards. You can quickly turn on and off SAFE debit and credit cards through the mobile app and Online Banking. This can be useful if you suspect fraud on your account.

Use tap to pay cards. This new technology allows you to complete transactions by simply placing a card near a POS machine or ATM may reduce the risk of skimming, since you are not putting your card directly into a machine.

What to do if You Are a Victim of Skimming

Immediately contact your financial institution. Turn off your card to deter any further fraud and contact your bank or credit union right away if you suspect you have been skimming victim. They will cancel your current card, issue you a new one and investigate any fraudulent transactions. SAFE members can call us at (916) 979-7233 or (800) 733-7233 and report fraudulent activity.



SAFE Credit Union has served its members with integrity, exceptional service, innovative products, and progressive technology since 1940.