What is Card Skimming
and How to Avoid it

ATM Skimming is a global problem, resulting in roughly $2 Billion dollars of fraud losses annually. While ATM Skimming may be well-known to the banking industry and law enforcement, most card users are unaware of this pervasive problem.  However, as the criminals make a mad-dash to collect as much as they can before new technologies limit their abilities, the problem is becoming more widespread. The news has recently reported skimming devices are believed to have been installed at ATMs in Waukegan and Kenosha. As this global problem begins to hit close to home, North Shore Trust and Savings is providing the following information to help you protect yourself.


What Are Skimmers?

Skimmers are malicious card readers attached to an ATM that grab the data off the card’s magnetic strip as a transaction is conducted at the machine. Thieves take the data and create cloned cards to be used for purchasing goods or withdrawing money from your account. Most skimmers are designed to blend into the machine to which they are attached and allow it to continue functioning properly.

Skimming attacks started growing in popularity during the early 2000s, when criminals began to reprogram used ATM parts. The reprogramed parts were used to create ‘false-fronts’ which would be placed over an ATM and collect the user information. At this time, skimming attacks primarily happened in densely populated areas where fraudsters could collect a large amount of data in short period of time. Skimming grew in popularity as wireless technology became more available, allowing the criminals to collect the information remotely and avoiding the need to return to the scene of the crime. When 3-D printing came along in 2011, high-quality skimming devices became even simpler to produce, with razor-thin Bluetooth compatible versions replacing the large overlays.

What can you do to protect yourself?

The first thing you can do is to check for any signs of tampering. When you approach an ATM, check for obvious signs of tampering at the top of the ATM, near the speakers, the side of the screen, the card reader itself, and the keyboard. If something looks different, such as a different color or material, graphics that aren’t aligned correctly, or anything else that doesn’t look right, don’t use that ATM.

If you are at a location with multiple ATMs, it’s a good idea to quickly take a look at the ATM next to yours and compare them both. If there are any obvious differences, don’t use either one. For example, if one ATM has a flashing card entry to show where you should insert the ATM card and the other ATM has a plain reader slot, you know something is wrong. Since most skimmers are glued on top of the existing reader, they will obscure the flashing indicator.

If the keyboard doesn’t feel right—too thick, perhaps—then there may be a PIN-snatching overlay, so don’t use it.

The second preventative measure would be to wiggle everything. Skimmers read the magnetic strip as the card is inserted, so give the card a bit of a wiggle. Even if you can’t see any visual differences, push at everything. ATMs are solidly constructed and generally don’t have any jiggling or loose parts. Skimmers are typically designed to be added and removed quickly, so they are not as secure as the legitimate pieces. Pull at protruding parts like the card reader. See if the keyboard is securely attached and just one piece. Does anything move when you push at it? If anything is loose, walk away.

Always be aware of your account activity by checking your statements and monitoring transactions online. Card skimmers are not only found on ATMs. They can be installed any place a card is used; gas station, laundry mat, movie theater, etc. Unfortunately, your card information can easily fall into the wrong hands. As long as you report the theft to your card issuer (for credit cards) or bank (where you have your account) as soon as possible, you will not be held liable for the lost amount and your money will be returned. Business customers do not have the same legal protection as individual consumers, but check with your bank or card issuer for full details. Either way, timely reporting is very important in cases of fraud, so be sure to keep an eye on your card transactions.

Lastly, pay attention to your phone. Banks and credit card companies have very active fraud detection systems in place and will immediately reach out to you, usually by telephone or with text alerts, if they notice something suspicious. Responding quickly can mean stopping attacks before they can affect you, so keep your phone handy.

What are Banks doing to protect me?

Banks have implemented various skimming detection and deterrent technologies over the years, only to be quickly followed by the criminals employing new method. The most coordinated effort by the global financial industry to combat skimming, and many other types of card fraud has been the implementation of EMV chips.  However, the adoption of EMV has been slower than expected. Currently only 45-50 percent of the U.S. credit and debit card transaction use the more secure chips instead of the magnetic strips. While many banks have reissued cards with EMV chips, merchants have been slow to upgrade the payment processing terminals. Skimming is on the rise, and spreading to more rural areas, as criminals are trying to cash in before more places switch over to chip cards and chip card readers.

Other technological innovations, such as mobile wallets, utilize Near Field Communication to transmit encrypted payment data, rather than utilizing the magnetic strip or embedded chip. Even if a criminal were able to intercept your payment information, the data would be useless without the encryption key stored on your device. With offerings available from Apple, Samsung and Google, many modern smartphones have this capability. You can check with your bank or card issuer to see if your account is compatible with these technologies.

What is North Shore Trust and Savings doing to protect me?

North Shore Trust and Savings has transitioned over to EMV cards for your protection. Each of our ATMs are EMV enabled and equipped with safety features which make several known skimming techniques difficult to use. Employees visually inspect the machines during work days for any evidence of tampering, and card activity is monitored for possible fraudulent transactions. Even with these preventative measures in place, skimming, and fraud in general, can still occur. We offer online baking and a mobile app to allow for easy account monitoring. You can also establish text alerts to be notified when certain transactions occur, a specific dollar amount moves in or out of your account, or if your account passes above or below a balance threshold. North Shore Trust does not currently have Apple and Samsung Pay or Google Wallet, but all three are in the works and are expected to be available in early 2018.