3 precautions to take against credit card skimmers

Thieves are getting smarter – here's how to help protect your information.

If you're using a credit card to pay at the pump or check out at the store, chances are the card is chip-and-PIN-enabled by now. Though credit card security has come a long way recently, thieves are still trying to exploit weaknesses.

Background: what's credit card skimming?

One of the ways your credit card data may be at risk is through card skimmers. Criminals have become skilled at building point-of-sale devices (the actual thing you slide your card through/into when you pay) that look similar to real devices. Thieves can place these fake devices on top of, or in place of, the real devices and use them to "skim" your card data. Though Chip-and-PIN technology and other protective measures help you guard against card skimming, thieves are still coming up with new ways to make their livelihoods easier and your life harder.

Card skimming gone wireless?

One big example of these kinds of criminals getting smarter is the use of wireless-enabled skimmers. With older skimming techniques, the thief would usually have to return to the skimmer they installed to collect the stolen data directly from the device. With wireless-enabled skimmers, thieves could conceivably collect stolen data from the device without having to show up and collect the information – they could, in theory, just get it wirelessly on their phone as long as they're within a close-enough range of the skimmer.

3 ways to help protect against credit card skimming.

While you can't stop thieves from trying to steal your credit card information, you can take smart precautions to limit your risks. Here are 3 big ones:

  1. If you can, avoid swiping your card. Contactless payment options are becoming more and more popular and accepted. Try to pay with a secure smartphone. Or if the terminal is chip-enabled, slide your chip-enabled card in.
  2. Careful with your PIN. If you're using your card's Chip-and-PIN security, be careful typing in your PIN number when confirming your purchase. Be aware of who may be lurking or looking and try to enter the number quickly and secretively – you can't be sure the innocent-looking person at the pump next to yours or the friendly-appearing checkout attendant isn't really a thief.
  3. Trust your instincts (and cash). If the point-of-sale device doesn't look right – out of place, oddly positioned or outdated – don't pay with any card. In this age of technological advancement, carrying a little cash with you can still go a long way toward peace of mind!