Don't Get Skimmed at the ATM

NEW YORK (MainStreet) —Over $1 billion in annual losses. That’s the U.S. Secret Service’s guesstimate of the extent of the fraud attributable to criminals who install so-called skimmers at ATMs which they use to collect all the information on a debit or credit card magnetic stripe. To boot, almost always there’s an associated camera that collects PINs.

Know what’s on the mag stripe - that’s the black bar on the back of the card; it has the account number, expiration date, security codes, etc. It also has the PIN on a debit card, and it is simple to create bogus cards that look and feel real to ATMs. Meaning they are good for a quick $600, $1,000, often more.

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But know you can pretty much guarantee you will not become a victim.

First, however, understand that we are hip deep in a rising wave of ATM skimming. For a simple reason.

“Would you rather make $30,000 in a year - or a day,” asked John Buzzard, a skimming expert with FICO, the credit monitoring company. He claimed skimming is on the rise, in part because the price of the gear to get into the scam has plummeted. Go shopping with a $5,000 budget, said Buzzard, and that’s plenty for a skimmer--a pinhole camera, card blanks, a magnetic stripe encoder, and that puts a thief in business. The gear also is easily acquired online, no questions asked.

An upshot: there are a lot more amateurs involved in skimming. Before, it mainly was organized gangs, often with Eastern European ties, who primarily worked the coasts. Now, literally, skimming occurs just about everywhere, and that means every consumer has to be alert.

The good news: bogus charges put on credit cards usually vanish with a phone call (note: more rights are preserved when charges are disputed in writing). Federal law caps losses to fraud on a credit card at $50.