Skimmers may be installed on ATM machines, and sometimes you cant even notice them. A small device goes over the normal card reading slot and reads your cards magnetic stripe. Skimmers can also be handheld devices that a dishonest merchant can keep in his pocket. While charging your card while youre out at dinner, for example, a scammer can run your card through a skimmer as well.
To avoid any hassles, use these tricks to avoid getting caught in a skimming scam:
- Use secure ATM machines under video surveillance or inside of a bank lobby. They're less likely to be tampered with. Thieves have to take more risk installing skimmers where there are security cameras.
- Cover the ATM keypad as you're entering your PIN -- just in case there's a hidden camera around.
- Skimming devices will stick out a few extra inches from an ATM. If something looks suspicious, find another ATM. Don't fall for a poor fitting device (or a sticker or sign that says "Swipe Here First", or Use This Machine Only).
- If a machine keeps your card, call the bank immediately and report it.
- Don't accept "help" from anybody hanging around the ATM machine. They may say they were having trouble also and you just need to enter your PIN again.
- Keep your eyes on your card if you have any doubts. Don't let a merchant walk off with your card -- even for a few seconds.
The University of Texas police department has a very nice page showing how ATM skimmers look.