Some High-Risk Locations for Swiping Your Credit Card

With credit card fraud being an ongoing and widespread concern, it’s crucial to be aware that debit cards are also susceptible to theft. According to the Federal Trade Commission, there were 66,090 reported cases of credit card fraud in 2020 alone. 

In 2021, credit card fraud emerged as one of the most prevalent forms of fraud in the United States, with nearly 390,000 reports received by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). However, this statistic only scratches the surface of the issue.

In December 2022, the Nilson Report, a trusted monitor of the payments industry, released a forecast projecting a staggering $165.1 billion in card fraud losses over the next decade in the United States. This pervasive problem affects individuals of all age groups and spans across every state. Notably, a specific type of credit card fraud, known as card-not-present fraud, which encompasses online, over-the-phone, and mail-order transactions, accounted for an estimated $5.72 billion in losses in 2022 within the United States, as reported by Insider Intelligence.

Therefore, it is essential to understand the potential risks associated with certain locations to safeguard your information effectively.

Dining at Restaurants

Don’t let the fear of credit card skimmers ruin your dining experience! Although some restaurants may still swipe cards in the back of the house, many establishments now swipe your card in a visible location. As a confident consumer, you can protect yourself by being aware of your surroundings and keeping an eye on your card during transactions. Trust your instincts and enjoy your meal without worry.”

Gas Stations

Gas stations have unfortunately become a favored target of credit card thieves due to the high volume of customers and relatively low level of surveillance. Thieves frequently exploit this vulnerability by installing skimming devices and miniature cameras to steal customers’ PIN numbers and card information. This ongoing issue has even sparked the involvement of the Secret Service in investigations. In 2018, the Agency conducted a widespread crackdown on gas stations and discovered nearly 200 skimmers at approximately 400 stations across the country. It is important for consumers to remain vigilant when using their credit or debit cards at gas stations, and to report any suspicious activity to authorities.

ATM Machines 

For years, criminals have been extracting debit (and credit) card data from ATM machines through a technique known as skimming. The introduction of chip cards was intended, in part, to mitigate this risk. However, as the credit card industry continues to evolve, so do the methods employed by thieves. Consumer Reports highlights that these criminals now utilize “shimmers” capable of extracting information from chip-based cards.

Street Vendors

Although there are numerous reliable mobile vendors striving to operate legitimately, there are also individuals who impersonate vendors for fraudulent purposes. Particularly at festivals, fairs, concerts, and other events, attendees may find it challenging to distinguish between genuine vendors and those employing card skimming techniques. This situation increases the vulnerability of your card information.

Retail Store Chains 

Despite the perception that large chain retail stores offer enhanced security measures due to their substantial resources, they remain attractive targets for thieves. The high volume of credit card transactions processed at these retailers increases the likelihood of security breaches. Incidents such as data breaches involving cards have occurred at renowned retail chains and several others, indicating that even established security measures can be compromised.

Locations with Stored Information 

The threat of credit card theft extends beyond the act of swiping your card. Any establishment that retains your credit card details could potentially fall victim to a data breach, resulting in hackers gaining unauthorized access to your card information. Such attacks have impacted businesses of various sizes and across multiple industries.

E-commerce Retailers

Engaging in online transactions entails potential vulnerabilities where your credit card information may be at risk. Multiple points of exposure exist, including the possibility of malware on your device, interception by a third party during transmission or a data breach occurring within the retailer from whom you make your purchase.

Securing Your Credit Card 

Considering the numerous avenues through which your credit card information can be compromised, it may be challenging to completely eliminate the risk of theft. However, there are measures you can adopt to enhance the protection of your card information.

Credit Card Readers at Gas Stations 

When utilizing a credit card at a gas station, it is prudent to take a moment to inspect the reader on the pump for any signs of tampering. Look out for unusual stickers, a void inspection seal, or loose components. If you observe any of these red flags, opt to make your payment inside the station instead. Running your card at the cash register reduces the likelihood of card theft occurring.

Choose Highly Visible ATMs 

While it is possible for any ATM machine to be compromised with a skimmer, those that receive less monitoring are more susceptible to tampering. To mitigate the risk associated with ATM skimmers, adopt a similar approach as you would to minimize the chances of a mugging. Opt for high-traffic ATMs in well-lit and prominent locations, preferably ones situated in secure areas such as banks if available. By selecting highly visible ATMs, you can reduce the likelihood of encountering tampered machines.

Opt for Credit Cards over Debit Cards 

When making electronic payments, it is advisable to prioritize credit cards over debit cards whenever feasible. Credit cards offer greater consumer protection under The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA), whereas debit cards are covered by the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA). The FCBA restricts your liability to a maximum of $50 for unauthorized charges, whereas the EFTA may hold you responsible for up to $500 (or potentially more in specific cases) in fraudulent transactions. It is therefore advantageous to leverage the added safeguards provided by credit cards when conducting financial transactions.

Compare Nearby Credit Card Readers 

When you find yourself in a setting where multiple identical credit card readers are present, take a moment to inspect them. Compare the appearance of the reader you are about to use with the others nearby. If you notice any noticeable discrepancies or inconsistencies between the readers on two otherwise identical ATMs or fuel pumps, there is a possibility that one of them may have a skimmer attached. In such cases, it is advisable to locate an alternative location to conduct your card transaction.

Test the Reader 

Prior to swiping your card at an unmonitored location, such as an ATM or fuel pump, perform a gentle jiggle or slight tug on the card reader. If you notice any signs of looseness or if something feels unstable, it is advisable to refrain from using your card at that particular location. The presence of any loose components could indicate that a thief has tampered with the reader, potentially installing a camera or skimmer to capture your card information.

Screen Street Vendors 

Before entrusting a mobile vendor with your credit or debit card, take proactive steps to verify their legitimacy. Inquire about their location, ask for visual documentation of their facility, and consider conducting online research if desired. These measures will help confirm that you are dealing with a genuine business entity rather than an individual impersonating a local or mobile vendor.

Avoid Storing Card Information 

In order to mitigate the potential risks associated with data breaches, it is advisable not to store your credit card information on retailer websites. While it may require a little extra effort to enter your card number for each purchase, this inconvenience pales in comparison to the challenges of dealing with a compromised or stolen card.

Have Cash On Hand 

In situations where uncertainties arise, such as when a restaurant takes your credit card out of sight or when you encounter a suspicious-looking fuel pump, it is wise to be prepared. By carrying a small amount of cash with you, you have an alternative payment method available for instances where using a credit card may seem too risky.

What to Do in Case of Credit Card Skimming

In the unfortunate event that your credit or debit card information is compromised through skimming, it is crucial to take the following steps to address the issue effectively.

Step 1: Promptly Notify Your Card Issuer 

As soon as you suspect that your card information has been stolen, inform the bank or institution that issued your card without delay. According to the Federal Trade Commission, if you report the incident before any fraudulent charges occur, you are not liable. The amount you are responsible for, if you report the theft after fraudulent charges are made, depends on how quickly you inform your card issuer. Most issuers have 24/7 contact numbers specifically for reporting such incidents, enabling you to take immediate action.

Timeliness is especially critical when dealing with a compromised debit card. If you report a stolen debit card within two business days of discovering the theft, the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) limits your liability to $50. Reporting the incident between two business days and 60 calendar days after the theft may result in a maximum liability of $500. Waiting 60 calendar days or more may exceed the $500 liability. Reporting the incident before any fraudulent charges occur should result in a liability of $0, even for a debit card.

Step 2: Provide a Written Statement to Your Card Issuer 

Follow up on your initial notification by submitting a written statement to your card issuer. This documentation will serve as proof that you reported the incident and demonstrate your responsible handling of the situation. To ensure proof of delivery, send the statement via certified mail with a return receipt requested, and retain a copy for your records.

Step 3: Obtain a New Card and Set a New PIN 

Once you notify your card issuer, they will likely deactivate your compromised card immediately and issue a replacement card, which will be sent to you by mail. The time it takes to receive the new card depends on the issuer and your specific circumstances. Once you receive the new card, ensure you set a new and distinct Personal Identification Number (PIN) for added security. It is crucial to select a different PIN to prevent thieves from utilizing recycled data they may have obtained in the past. Using the same PIN increases the risk of unauthorized access to your account.

Step 4: Monitor Your Account Statements 

Thieves may either use the stolen card information promptly or wait before making fraudulent charges. To promptly detect any unauthorized activity, diligently monitor your account statements for any suspicious or unauthorized charges. It is recommended to maintain regular scrutiny of your statements as a precautionary measure, in case your card information was stolen without your knowledge.

Step 5: Report Unauthorized Charges 

In the event you identify unauthorized charges, promptly report them to your card issuer. These charges may be related to the incident you initially reported or could stem from another instance where your card information was compromised without your awareness. Resolving such unauthorized charges will depend on your account’s specific policies and any applicable federal or state regulations.