The convenience credit cards offer make our lives much easier and certainly less stressful on a daily basis. Many of us no longer carry cash; we know that if we encounter anything that’s “cash only”, an ATM machine is usually within our line of vision. What we don’t always realize, however, is that danger is also as close as those ATM machines – and even closer. The latest threat is called “credit card skimming” and it works in the most unlikely ways. Keep reading as we explore this new illegal activity and what you can do to protect yourself – and your credit.
Our Technological Lives
Those magnetic strips on the backs of our credit cards are loaded with information. From our buying habits to our social security numbers, one could say our financial lives have been reduced to a two-inch band that’s with us at all times. And it’s those bands, or magnetic strips, that thieves are honing in on. Think your card’s safe as long as it’s in your hands? Think again.
A Global – and Growing – Problem
It’s important to realize this is a growing global concern; it’s not reserved for Americans only. In fact, the thieves themselves are forming gangs that work cohesively in many different countries. A small investment, usually a few hundred dollars, will allow a thief to purchase one of those small and unobtrusive card readers.
Once in his possession, he can then easily attach it to an ATM machine. You swipe your card, confident that you’re electronically communicating with the bank; instead, you’re giving every bit of that information to the thief with enough technological savvy to reroute the communication between the card and the bank.
Not only that, but many thieves are even installing small cameras that you don’t even realize are there, or if you do, you assume are bank cameras. This camera captures your PIN number. Within seconds, these thieves have access to everything they need to wipe you clean.
The information you believe is secure is suddenly financing the next big scam for some gang.
Another danger presents itself as you give your credit card to a clerk or waiter. We never question our credit cards being out of our sight for a moment or two. We’re simply paying for dinner or that new DVD. The criminals, however, take complete advantage of those brief moments. Using a portable reader, he can swipe your card in less than five seconds and you’ve no clue until your credit card company calls or until you receive your statement.
What You Can Do Now
There is good news. Virtually every bank and credit card issuer on the planet works to stay a step ahead of these illegal activities. That said, it’s a vicious cycle; the banks locate the vulnerability, then fixes it, only to have the crooks find another way to steal and cheat. So what you can you, as a consumer, do to protect yourself? Here are a few tips that can help you remain vigilant in your own efforts:
It may not always be possible, but the closer you can keep your credit card, there will be fewer opportunities for those with illegal inclinations to take advantage of.
If you’ve ever come across a “new” magnetic strip that offers to clean the build up on your card, that should be a red flag. You can be sure it’s nothing more than a thief’s way of getting you to swipe your card on his reader.
We’ve said it before, it’s absolutely crucial for you to check your monthly statements. Often, this is the first time people realize there’s been fraudulent activity.
Often, we can avoid these pitfalls by staying aware. If an ATM machine doesn’t look right or if it looks as though it’s been tampered with, pass it up and find another one. It’s always better to take a proactive approach rather than having to react to a problem once your account has been compromised. If you discover anything that doesn’t look right on your monthly statement, contact the bank or the credit card company immediately. Procrastination only allows the crooks to stay a step ahead.
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