Credit card skimmers are illegal devices that criminals use at payment points of service, including ATMs, gas stations, and merchant credit card terminals, to steal consumer card information. While credit card skimming can happen anywhere, there are some ways to help protect yourself. Here’s what you need to know.

What Is Credit Card Skimming?

Credit card skimming is a form of identity theft that involves copying a credit card or debit card’s information to use for fraud. An illegal device called a skimmer is installed at a gas pump, ATM, or other payment terminal to copy card information from the magnetic strip to a storage device. Criminals can then retrieve the stolen information and use it to make fraudulent purchases.

How Common Is Credit Card Skimming?

Credit card skimming is one of the most common types of fraud and costs consumers and financial institutions more than $1 billion a year, according to the FBI.

Where Are Credit Card Skimmers Most Often Used?

Credit card skimmers are often placed on ATMs and gas pumps, but they can be placed on most types of electronic points of sale. Tourist areas are popular targets for credit card skimming devices, but they can show up at merchants in any region.

Who Are the Most Common Victims of Credit Card Skimming?

Anyone who uses a credit card or debit card to make purchases can become a victim of credit card skimming. But your risk of prolonged fraud and losses increases if you don’t regularly monitor your accounts.

What Does a Credit Card Skimmer Look Like?

The skimmer is usually a small, rectangular device that fits on top of the real card reader with adhesive. Skimmers can be sophisticated and difficult to detect as they are designed to look like a legitimate part of the electronic payment terminal.

How to Help Avoid Credit Card Skimmers

Here are some tips to help avoid credit card skimmers.

Learn How to Spot a Credit Card Skimmer

Checking for a skimmer usually only takes a few seconds:

  • Look for damage to the card slot or PIN pad, which could be a sign that the machine has been tampered with.
  • Wiggle the card reader or keypad with your hand. If it moves easily, it could be a skimmer.
  • Compare the card slot to other nearby machines, such as the neighboring gas pump.
  • Some gas station pumps have security stickers installed on the card readers. If the sticker looks tampered with, don’t use the card reader.

Choose a Machine in View of Security

Use an ATM, gas pump, or point-of-sale terminal that is within view of security, a cashier, or bank teller. Criminals are less likely to target machines where they can be caught installing skimmers.

Look out for Hidden Cameras

There may be hidden cameras installed on gas pumps or ATMs to spy on your keystrokes and capture your PIN number. If you see a camera, report it to the merchant. It’s also a good idea to cover your hands when inputting your PIN number to avoid shoulder surfing.

Monitor Your Accounts

Someone who gains access to your credit card or debit card information can use it to make purchases. Monitor your accounts and read your monthly statements to look for unauthorized transactions. Immediately report any suspicious activity to the financial institution.

Use a Credit Card for Purchases

Using a credit card for your purchases offers greater consumer protection, as your liability for fraudulent charges can never exceed $50. Most credit card providers extend $0 liability to their cardholders as an added protection.

Debit cards, on the other hand, can only limited to $50 liability if the debit card holder notifies the bank within two days of discovering fraud. That liability increases to $500 if the cardholder waits longer than two days. And if fraud isn’t reported within 60 days, the cardholder may be liable for all losses.

You should check your credit and debit card terms and conditions for your specific requirements.

Sign Up for Credit Monitoring

Credit monitoring can help protect you from identity theft by watching your credit report, Social Security number, and other crucial aspects of your identity for signs of fraud. You receive alerts when possible suspicious activity is detected to help you quickly respond when fraud occurs.


How can you tell if your card has been skimmed?

If you find unauthorized charges on your credit card or bank account, your card information may have been stolen.

Can you get your money back from a skimmed card?

If you report fraudulent charges to your credit card provider or bank immediately, you may be able to recover most, if not all, of your losses. It’s important to remember that credit cards usually offer greater liability protections against fraud.

Do credit card skimmers work on chip cards?

Most skimmers copy the data from the magnetic strip on your credit card, so it is usually safer to use the chip on your card as they are more heavily encrypted. However, it is possible for chip cards to be skimmed.

Can a credit card be skimmed by tapping?

Payment terminals with contactless technology that let you “tap to pay” may help prevent your card from being skimmed. But scammers never seem to run out of new ways to steal your card data, so you should always stay vigilant.

Do credit card skimmers work on mobile wallets?

Credit card skimmers should not work on mobile wallets on your phone.