Who's Swiping Your Credit Card

12/1/2001

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If you are like most people, when you use your credit card to pay for your bill at a retail shop or restaurant, you probably assume it is in safe hands. In fact, your card could be in the hands of a "skim artist." Credit card skimming is a practice that has been around for over a decade but, has increased in frequency the past two or three years.

Here is how it works. Skim artists recruit gofers, who then find temporary work within restaurants, hotels and retail establishments. The recruits are given small, illicit, electronic devices, known as skimmers, that capture all of the credit or debit card's details (name, address, telephone number, card number, credit limit and PIN number) in the few seconds that it takes to swipe the card through the machine.

When the unsuspecting customers go to pay their bill, their card is first swiped through the legitimate credit card machine, but then, secretly, it is also swiped through the smaller skimmer machine. The gofer then passes the gadget on to the skim artist, who pays them cash for their part in the crime. Once the skim artist has the details, he downloads the information onto a computer and makes up a fake card. The "cloned" card is embossed with the details of the victim's credit card and passed on to others, who may sell the card or use it for their own benefit.

Skim artists usually target gold or platinum cards. Because of their higher credit limit, it visually takes the bank longer to realize there is a problem. While the whole process of getting a cloned card onto the streets can take less than a day, the customer is none the wiser, since his own credit card is in his wallet. In fact, victims may not realize they have been taken until they check their statements at the end of the month.

How can you protect yourself?

  • Check your statements regularly and review them thoroughly. If you see a transaction that you did not make or authorize, report it to the card issuer immediately.
  • Request a credit check on yourself as often as twice a year.
  • If you use your credit or debit card at a restaurant or similar establishment, try to keep your eye on your credit card while it is being processed.
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