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What to Do if Your Credit Card Has Been Skimmed

June 18, 2015
Credit Card Basics, Credit Cards
What to Do if Your Credit Card Has Been Skimmed
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When Travis Longmore visited the United States, he wasn’t expecting his credit card information to be stolen. What’s more, he wasn’t expecting his bank to not believe him.

Longmore’s is a typical case of credit card skimming. Thieves use small devices that scan and store information from a card’s magnetic strip. They then create a counterfeit credit card with the stolen information.

“I got an email from my bank saying they thought I had some fraudulent charges on my card,” says Longmore, a 32-year-old travel photographer from Australia. “But when I went and looked at the transactions they were talking about, they were ones I’d actually done.”

As Longmore glanced over his recent purchases, he noticed about $2,000 worth of purchases made in Pennsylvania while he was in New York City. When he called the card issuer, it didn’t believe the charges were fraudulent because a card was present in the transaction. “I had to prove to them I was in New York City when the transactions were happening,” Longmore says. “After some back and forth they believed me and refunded the money.”

Longmore describes himself as cautious about how he uses his credit card. But like most victims of credit card skimming, he has no idea where his credit card information was stolen. To protect yourself from skimming, it’s important to understand how it works and what to look for.

Unfortunately, there’s no foolproof way to prevent your credit card from being skimmed. However, you can change certain habits to avoid putting your card in compromising situations.

Check the card reader at the gas pump and ATM

Skimming devices can be hard to detect if you’re not paying attention. In most cases, a skimmer may look exactly like the original card reader. If you’re at a gas pump, check the card reader at the next pump to make sure it looks the same as the one you were planning to use. It’s unlikely that a fraudster would install a skimmer at all the pumps.

When using an ATM, check for tampering. If something looks off, such as a different color scheme, mismatching material or the reader looks misaligned, contact the bank and use a different ATM or make your withdrawal at one of the bank’s branches.

Use cash

Whether you’re at a restaurant, a gas pump or a grocery store, you can rarely go wrong with cash. This can especially give you peace of mind at restaurants, where the server processes your card out of sight. Although it takes more effort to always have cash on hand, it can prevent you from dealing with potential fraudulent activity.

» MORE: How to Dispute Fraudulent Credit Card Charges

Apply for a card that has an EMV chip

One way credit card companies are combatting skimming fraud is by adding EMV chips to their cards. Unlike the magnetic strip on the back of your credit card, an EMV chip encrypts your card data and generates a unique transaction code each time you use the card. Because the code changes each time you make a purchase, copying it does a thief no good.

Although many retailers don’t yet have the software and/or hardware to process EMV chip credit cards as of June 2015, it’s likely to happen soon. That’s because the four major U.S. credit card payment networks plan to shift the liability for fraud committed with a card present to merchants that do not make the necessary upgrades by the following deadlines:

Visa MasterCard American Express Discover
Retail point-of-service terminals October 1, 2015 October 1, 2015 October 2015 October 1, 2015
ATMs October 1, 2017 October 1, 2015 N/A N/A
Gas stations / Automated fuel dispensers October 1, 2017 October 1, 2017 October 2017 October 1, 2017

Keep an eye on your accounts

Although there’s no surefire way to avoid skimming completely, you can minimize the damage if it does happen to you by paying attention to your credit card balance. The Nerds recommend checking your online account often, especially during times when you’re using your card more frequently. How often is up to you, but thieves usually act quickly, so don’t let too much time go by without reviewing your recent transactions.

Ben Luthi is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @benluthi.

Image via iStock.