Don't Let Card Fraud be the Grinch in Your Holiday Season

In Dr. Seuss’s book, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, we conjure images of a mean green Grinch who physically steals presents because of his distaste for merriment and cheer. However, as we head into the holiday season, there is a Grinch lurking around at ATMs and gas pumps – it’s a small black device the size of a deck of cards, and it’s called a card skimmer. Fraudsters use many different card skimmers in addition to this one. This is the most prevalent fraud this holiday season. According to, card fraud accounted for $24 billion in 2016, and 68% occurred in the United States. Here are actionable steps you can take to prevent card skimming fraud.

Spot the Skimmer

Card skimming occurs when fraudsters attach a small device to a gas pump or ATM to steal debit or credit card information. When you swipe your card, the device captures the details from your card’s magnetic strip. The chances of falling victim to a skimmer are higher on the weekend because the fraudsters typically install the device after hours and capture details while the banks are closed over the weekend. If you utilize ATMs over the weekend, it’s important to stay alert and realize the risks.

Realize the Risks

Check the ATM and assess critical areas – including security tape, attached cameras, and plastic that is not flush or part of the machine. The security tape is a special seal secured over the front panel. This seal will become tampered or broken when a thief is installing a skimmer. If it is tampered with, it will read void. Additionally, thieves often connect a camera or fake keypad to record your pin. If the keys are hard to push, there is a risk that this is part of the skimmer. The typical skimmer device is smaller than a deck of cards that fits over the existing reader. The best way to determine if there is a skimmer is by wiggling everything. There should not be any protruding or loose parts on an ATM. If any of these indicators exist at the ATM, notify the police immediately.

Defend your Details

There are measures you can take to protect yourself when using your debit card. Use your debit card as a credit card to eliminate entering your pin number. If you do use your debit card and enter your pin, always protect your pin. Shield your number entry in case there are tiny pinhole cameras installed. Always try to use your chip to make a transaction. It’s not impossible to crack the code for chip readers, but it’s much harder than magnetic strip skimming.

Scrutinize your Statement

The tips above will help you prevent fraud, but there is always a new scheme or new device in the works. Hackers have figured out how to use virtual skimmers through malware software installed without them ever physically touching the machine. The best way to always protect yourself is to regularly and consistently review your statement through online banking or your mobile app. By checking daily, you can immediately report any suspicious activity to your credit card or bank issuer.

To avoid becoming a victim of card fraud, the American Bankers Association offers these additional tips:

Contact your bank immediately if your card is lost, stolen or subject to fraudulent use.

  • Memorize your PIN number. Do not use your birth date, address, phone number or social security number. Never store your PIN with your card, and do not make it available to others.
  • Mark through any blank spaces on debit slips, including the tip line at restaurants, so the total amount cannot be changed.
  • Know your limits. Many issuers limit daily purchases and withdrawals for your protection.
  • Be wary of those trying to help you, especially when an ATM "eats" your card, they may be trying to steal your card number and PIN.
  • Do not give your PIN to anyone over the phone. Often thieves steal the cards and then call the victim for their PIN, sometimes claiming to be law enforcement or the issuing bank.

For more tips and information, visit the Federal Trade Commission's website at We want you to enjoy your holiday, and encourage you to share our blog with your friends and family to share this knowledge and protect those you know. If you have any questions, continue the conversation with your banker.