16 January 2010

This is a "skimmer." Be on the lookout for these!

This is probably my most useful/practical/important post of the week.  Normally I avoid double-posting here any material I post at Neatorama; instead I just compile the posts weekly into a "linkdump."  I do this as much to save time as for any ethical reason, but today I'm making an exception, because I want to make sure as many people as possible become aware of devices called skimmers.

Skimmers "harvest" the data from credit cards and ATM cards.  Some skimmers are carried in pockets by unscrupulous bartenders or others to whom you might entrust a card.  Others are boldly installed in public locations.  The one pictured above was installed on top of the slot at a Citibank ATM machine in California last year.  If you were to put your card into the slot, it would pass through the skimmer on its way into the ATM.  As it did so, the number on your card would be read, and either retrieved later by the malefactor, or transmitted as an SMS text message to the thief's mobile phone.

On the undersurface of the skimmer is a camera that views your finger movements as you enter your PIN.

Skimmers have been around for quite a while; criminals can buy them on the internet and then install them whereever they can.  So some ATM manufacturers now design their machine to “oscillate the card back and forth as it is motored into the machine, effectively not providing a smooth “swipe” these skimmers need.”  Other ATMs incorporate GreenSleeves, but criminals have devised fake GreenSleeves!

The skimmer pictured above is explained in more depth at a post at KrebsOnSecurity.  I encourage you to read that article and the comment thread there.  If you are sophisticated enough to be aware of all this, consider passing the information along to your parents or children.

Over the years, the more I have learned about credit card scams, the more I have reverted to cash transactions.

Via Reddit, where there is also a discussion thread.

Update: Stephan found some additional photos at Snopes.


  1. Looking at the additional photos at the link, it doesn't seem as though there's any way to tell when a skimmer is attached. Are there any tricks, specific features to look for?

  2. Swift, I don't have a good answer for you - which is what makes them so scary.

  3. Over the years, the more I have learned about credit card scams, the more I have reverted to cash transactions.

    This isn't about credit cards so much as debit cards - they're looking for your PIN.

    Some credit cards include a PIN for cash advances, but these thieves are trying to get at your bank account, not your credit line.

    The only way to be 100% certain you never get skimmed would be to shred your debit card. (and let's not even get started on the RFID chips in credit cards)

  4. Thankfully, I don't use ATMs. Using an ATM would imply that I had money to withdraw. But seriously, I've never liked the idea of a machine to access my account that just sits out there all day and night to be "modified" by someone.

  5. I honestly didn't believe this was real at first. Apparently I was wrong.


  6. Seems easily foiled, though. I always cover the keypad with my hand or wallet when punching in the numbers.


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