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Skimming Scams – What to Know & How to Stay Secure

July 21, 2017

Whether you’re grabbing cash for the babysitter or filling up your car, the last thing you want to worry about is getting scammed when using a credit or debit card. Unfortunately, thieves are becoming sneakier every day, putting you at greater risk of getting hacked or scammed. Protect yourself by knowing what the latest scam tactics are, and how to avoid them.

What is a skimming scam?

It's called a skimming scam because thieves "skim" your card information with different tools. A card skimmer is a small device that a thief attaches to ATMs, card readers, registers, and even gas pumps to collect credit or debit card information. When you insert your card, the skimmer reads the magnetic stripe and captures your information. To gain your personal identification number (PIN), thieves either use small cameras hidden on the machines to record you entering your PIN or keypad overlays that record your keystrokes. Some skimmers are even equipped with Bluetooth technology, so thieves can gain access to your information without returning to the scene. Once the thief has obtained your information from the skimming device, they can create cloned cards or hack into accounts.

So, how do you stay secure?

Unless you know what you are looking for, it can be hard to notice when a skimming device is in use. Follow these tips to protect yourself, and your accounts, from these tricky scams:

Thoroughly check out the machine. Always check the card reader before using it. Jiggle and pull on the card reader, keypad, and privacy shield. Skimmers are typically attached to these devices with adhesive, so you should be able to tell if something is suspicious. If you are unsure about a machine, check out other card slots in the area. Most of the time, thieves will only attach a skimmer to one or two card readers at a given location. If it looks different, you should probably avoid it.

Avoid non-bank ATMs. While it is often more convenient to use a non-bank ATM when you're on the go, it can be risky. Most bank ATM locations have video surveillance coverage, making it easier to prevent skimming scams.

Shield the keypad when you are typing your PIN. As mentioned earlier, thieves often use hidden cameras to gain your PIN. Simply covering the keypad can prevent this!

Be on alert for suspicious people hanging out around the ATM or gas pump. Never let anyone assist you with using the machine unless you are positive they are a bank employee or gas station attendant. Thieves often hang around machines to gain account information.

Check your transaction history closely and frequently. Getting your money back from unauthorized transactions is much easier if caught early.

Use your EMV Chip Card whenever possible. The microchips on these cards generate new, non-reusable transaction codes with each use, giving you an added layer of security when making purchases or utilizing ATMs.

The best way to prevent skimming scams is, of course, to not use suspicious machines. If something looks fishy, notify the store or financial institution immediately and find an alternate method.

If you believe you have fallen victim to a skimming scam, contact your financial institution or credit card company immediately to notify them. It's also a good idea to place a fraud alert on your credit report to give your account and credit score an extra layer of protection. Finally, you can file a report with the Federal Trade Commission. They often work to break up "skimming rings" that are sometimes nationwide, or even worldwide.

Jim Oosterman is the Vice President of Melrose Bank. He can be reached by telephone at 781-665-2500, online at or on Facebook at

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