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Cambridge-Greenwich Police Department

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5 Minutes Read

How to Spot a Credit Card Skimmer and Avoid Fraud

How to Spot a Credit Card Skimmer and Avoid Fraud

Credit card skimming is when an attacker steals your card information, either by using a physical skimming device or through other electronic means, to make unauthorized purchases. It happens when you’re in a store or on the go, and the attacker swipes your credit card from behind. Or, the attacker might use your credit card to order something online from a legitimate business but use a different address so they don’t show up on your credit report. There are many reasons someone might want to steal your personal information—some people just want to waste your money or personal information so they can cause financial harm. But, with so many ways skimmers can go undetected and lead you into unnecessary debt, it’s best to stay informed about what they are and how they can affect you.

How to Spot a Credit Card Skimmer

Credit card skimming is a prevalent form of fraud that can have devastating consequences if you become a victim.

Attackers use various techniques to steal your card information, enabling them to make unauthorized purchases or commit identity theft. It's important to stay informed about credit card skimmers and learn how to spot them to protect yourself from falling into unnecessary debt. In this article, we will explore what credit card skimmers are, how they work, and provide you with actionable tips on how to avoid becoming a victim of fraud.

What is a Credit Card Skimmer?

A credit card skimmer is a device that criminals use to capture your credit card information. Skimmers are designed to blend in seamlessly with legitimate card readers, making them difficult to detect. These devices can be installed on various payment terminals, such as ATMs, gas pumps, or even handheld card readers used by merchants. When you insert your card into a compromised terminal, the skimmer captures the data from your card's magnetic stripe or reads the information from the chip.

This stolen data is then used to create counterfeit cards or make unauthorized transactions.

Skimmers come in different forms, including overlay skimmers, insert skimmers, and wireless skimmers. Overlay skimmers are placed on top of legitimate card readers and are often made to match the appearance of the original device. Insert skimmers, on the other hand, are inserted into the card slot, which allows them to capture the card information as it passes through. Wireless skimmers use Bluetooth or other wireless technologies to transmit the stolen data to the criminals without physically accessing the device.

Scanners and Fraud

In addition to skimmers, fraudsters also use scanning devices to steal credit card information. These devices, known as RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) scanners, can read the data stored on the contactless chip of your credit card. While contactless payment methods offer convenience, they also present an opportunity for criminals to exploit.

Unfortunately, illicit use of RFID technology can lead to unauthorized capture of your credit card details. 

Always remain vigilant and consider protective measures such as RFID-blocking sleeves or wallets. These products are designed to block the radio frequency signals emitted by your credit cards, making it impossible for scanners to read the data. Additionally, you can also disable the contactless feature on your credit card if you don't frequently use it. Check with your bank or credit card issuer for instructions on how to do this.

How to Spot a Credit Card Skimmer

Being able to identify credit card skimmers is crucial in protecting yourself from fraud. Here are some signs to look out for that may indicate the presence of a skimming device:

1. Inspect the card reader: Before using an ATM or any other payment terminal, take a close look at the card reader.

Check for any signs of tampering, such as loose parts, scratches, or adhesive residue. Skimmers are often attached using double-sided tape, so any irregularities in the appearance of the card reader can be a red flag.

2. Check for hidden cameras: Skimmers often work in conjunction with hidden cameras that capture your PIN as you enter it. Look for anything out of the ordinary, such as small holes or unusual objects near the PIN pad. Covering the keypad with your hand while entering your PIN can also help protect it from prying eyes.

3. Use contactless payment methods: As mentioned earlier, contactless payments are not susceptible to skimming devices. Whenever possible, use mobile payment apps or contactless cards to minimize the risk of your card information being compromised.

4. Monitor your accounts regularly: Regularly checking your bank and credit card statements is essential for catching any unauthorized transactions early.

Set up fraud alerts with your financial institutions to receive notifications of suspicious activity on your accounts.

5. Trust your instincts: If something feels off or looks suspicious, trust your gut instinct. If the card reader or the surroundings of the payment terminal seem unusual or untrustworthy, it's best to find an alternative method of payment.

By being vigilant and aware of your surroundings, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to credit card skimming.

Other Types of Fraud

While credit card skimming is a prevalent form of fraud, there are other tactics that fraudsters employ to steal your personal and financial information. One such method is known as bait-card fraud. This type of fraud involves a criminal intentionally leaving a seemingly lost or dropped credit card in a public place. The hope is that an unsuspecting person will find the card, assume it is abandoned, and use it for their own benefit.

However, the card is actually a bait, and the criminal uses it to make unauthorized purchases or withdraw cash before the cardholder realizes their card is missing.

To protect yourself from bait-card fraud, it's crucial to remember that using someone else's credit card, even if it appears to be abandoned, is illegal. If you come across a lost credit card, it's best to hand it over to the authorities or the nearest establishment so that they can contact the rightful owner.


Credit card skimmers and other forms of fraud pose a significant threat to our financial security. By understanding how these criminals operate and learning how to spot their tactics, we can take proactive measures to protect ourselves from falling victim to fraud. Remember to inspect card readers, be cautious of hidden cameras, utilize contactless payment methods when possible, monitor your accounts regularly, and trust your instincts.

By staying vigilant and informed, you can safeguard your personal information and avoid unnecessary debt caused by credit card skimmers and fraud. Stay safe, and protect yourself from becoming an easy target for criminals.


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Disclaimer: The content published on this blog is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be legal advice or an endorsement of any particular course of action. The information provided is based on general principles and may not be applicable to individual circumstances. For personalized legal advice or assistance, please consult with a qualified attorney. The views expressed in guest posts are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Village of Cambridge Police Department.
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