Credit card skimming is a problem that’s plagued consumers for over a decade, and despite security advancements, the threat persists.

Thieves continue to use skimming devices to pull data from consumer cards when swiped. This form of financial fraud remains an issue across the United States, but there are ways to help protect your accounts.

A recent study showed 23% of Americans believed they were victims of skimming fraud at a gas pump, up 8% from one year earlier.

Lisa Olivieri, Special Agent in Charge with the U.S. Secret Service, said the people behind the crime often adapt.

“At gas stations alone, there are millions of dollars in losses each year in the U.S. due to skimming activity,” she said. “Unfortunately, skimming technology is becoming more advanced every year.”

Former Secret Service agent Jeff Anderson, who now serves as a Regions Corporate Security Group Manager, said people need to remain vigilant, particularly at terminals that still require consumers to swipe their cards.

“Consumers are vulnerable to card skimming any place they use their credit or debit cards,” said Anderson. “But particularly vulnerable are gas station pumps, because these are places that are not monitored as closely as point-of-sale terminals.”

Cards with chip-encrypted technology, and terminals that read the chip to facilitate a transaction, rather than a magnetic stripe, offer much stronger protection.

Counterfeit cards are created with the skimmed information, and those are used to drain the victim’s accounts.
John Joyce, Regions Corporate Security Group Manager

“Bad guys haven’t been able to figure out how to beat the chip,” said John Joyce, who also serves as a Regions Corporate Security Group Manager following a career in the Secret Service. “The trouble begins at the point of sale when a card is swiped instead of using the chip. If that terminal has been compromised by a skimming device, the card information housed in the magnetic stripe is captured by the skimmer. Counterfeit cards are created with the skimmed information, and those are used to drain the victim’s accounts.”

Protect accounts by choosing the chip, when possible, Joyce advised.

“Regardless of where you are, give the point-of-sale terminal a tug and see if you can move it,” he added. “Skimmers typically have an artificial faceplate to them, and that’s where people get duped. These devices are usually just attached with two-sided tape because the criminals want to be able remove it quickly.”

Joyce said, unfortunately, consumers can’t always prevent their debit or credit card information from being compromised, but there are additional preventive steps that can help minimize risks and protect financial information:

  1. If paying at the pump, choose a pump that is close to the front of the store, where it is in view of employees. Fraudsters often choose to install skimmers on a pump that’s far from the store – and easier to get away from if someone notices what they’re doing.
  2. Check to make sure the gas pump cabinet is closed and the seal has not been tampered with.
  3. Before you swipe your card, look for suspicious devices that may be attached to the card reader.
  4. Always pull on the faceplate of any terminal where you insert your credit or debit card. Any unusual movement would indicate a skimmer device might be present.
  5. When inputting your PIN, use your other hand to cover your keystrokes.

Regions recommends all consumers monitor their bank accounts regularly to spot any unauthorized charges. Anyone who suspects their card has been compromised should report it immediately to authorities, their bank and their credit card company. Additional fraud-prevention information can be found in this section of Regions.com.