What Is Card Skimming and How to Protect Yourself in 2023?

what is card skimming

Have news reports about all sorts of scams made you too afraid to put your card into a terminal? Are you worried that you aren’t tech-savvy enough to protect yourself from all of these new threats and attacks?

Well, we’re here to put you at ease—in this guide we’ll demystify a lot of the lingo, answer questions like “what is card skimming” and teach you how to not fall prey to fraudsters.

How Does Card Skimming Work?

In short, card skimming is the act of stealing information from your credit or debit card when it’s used at a compromised machine.

Criminals fit these machines on existing ATMs or card readers at places like petrol stations, and sometimes they’ll use a wireless credit card skimmer and pose as taxi drivers, delivery persons or retail workers.

When you put your card into a compromised machine, the card skimmer reads the magnetic strip and stores the card number, expiration date and card holder’s name. Your PIN can be captured, too, if a fake keypad has been placed over the real one.

It isn’t just a problem with physical readers either—card skimming can also occur online. Digital skimmers are malicious code that hackers inject into legitimate websites to grab payment data.

Criminals will take the information they’ve captured and either sell it, or use it themselves in the following ways: 

What Does a Card Skimmer Look Like?

Card skimmers are difficult to spot, as they’ve been designed to look like regular card readers.

It could be a device fitted over the top of an ATM, an entirely fake wireless credit card skimmer keypad or one fitted over an existing keypad.

Aside from ATMs, card skimming devices also tend to show up at places like ticket kiosks, parking metres and other spots where you can swipe a credit or debit card.

If you’re a business owner, it’s best that you check your EFTPOS terminals regularly for swapping, damage or modifications.

Some tell-tale signs would be the device’s serial number being different, it having more or different-looking cables, the company’s name or address being printed inaccurately on receipts, etc.

How to Protect Yourself From Card Skimmers

Before using your card, bear in mind the following:

  • Does the card reader look the same as the other ones at that location? 

For example, if you’re at a petrol station and one card reader looks a bit different from the rest, it could be a sign that a skimmer has been attached.

  • Does the reader feel secure?

Readers with card skimmers attached mightn’t feel as secure. If you’re able to wiggle the reader, it might have a skimming device installed.

  • Are there any signs of tampering?

This could include scratches around the card slot, an unfamiliar or odd-looking card slot or any other features that don’t seem right. For example, perhaps the keypad is overly raised or looks too shiny and new compared to the rest of the machine.

  • Could you pay inside?

While not completely foolproof, paying inside a petrol station or shop or withdrawing money from an indoor ATM could be safer than paying outdoors. Criminals have easier access to outdoor machines to fit card skimmers on them. Use NFC or supervised ATMs wherever possible.

  • Regularly check your statements.

Get into the habit of regularly checking your bank statements. This isn’t just useful against card skimming, but against bank fraud in general. Go through all transactions, being aware that sometimes very small amounts may be taken from banks by fraudsters initially, in preparation for a larger amount later on.

Banks now offer you the option to turn on push notifications on your mobile phone so that you’ll get one every time anything is received, spent or transferred from your account. This can ensure that you can act quickly if anything suspicious crops up.

  • Invest in a card skimmer detector.

A card skimmer detector allows you to quickly audit a device before inserting your real card. It detects the number of magnetic heads that pass over the card, providing instant analysis: OK, Warning or Dangerous.

  • Be alert online.

Don’t fall victim to digital card skimmers—use payment methods like PayPal where possible to ensure that you’re protected and scan your devices regularly for threats.

  • Keep your money in a separate account.

Finally, don’t keep all your money in your current account. If it’s compromised, you risk losing everything.

When you get paid, transfer most of your cash into a savings account which has no card attached to it. Keep in your current account only what you think you’ll use—you can always quickly and easily do a transfer via online banking to send yourself more funds if you need them.

Bottom Line: Staying Safe Out There

As you can see, a little vigilance goes a long way when it comes to keeping your payment information safe. It’s pretty easy to protect yourself from card skimming online or IRL if you’re wise to the scammers’ MO.

Just make sure to bookmark this article so that you’ll always have a quick checklist to skim through if you ever suspect card reader tampering.


1. Is card skimming illegal?

Card skimming is indeed a crime. If you believe that you’ve been a victim of it, it’s paramount that you report it to the police.

2. Can a card skimmer get your PIN?

Yes, card skimmers can get your PIN if they’ve used a device fitted over the number pad of a chip and PIN machine.

If you’ve been affected by card skimming, be sure to call your bank or use the “block card” feature in your online banking app so that criminals can’t take money out of your account.

3. What is an example of card skimming?

Scammers’ methods include everything from hiding cameras to installing attachments to ATMs and payment terminals to capture card information.

Refer to the section above where we answer the question “what is card skimming” in greater detail for more examples.

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