How to avoid skimming

By Greg Knoll / Guest CommentaryJanuary 17, 2013 

What is 'skimming' and how can we protect ourselves from it?

Recently, residents in Madera County got a quick lesson on skimming and how vulnerable we can be if we don't take precautions. I speak from experience, being a victim of skimming last summer after eating at a restaurant in the Yosemite area. Within two hours, my credit card number was being used in a Walmart in Texas.

I was fortunate to have my bank call me due to the unusual location that the card was being used at. Skimming occurs when thieves use a device to steal credit card information. Thieves use the stolen data to make fraud credit card purchases. In the case of ATM or debit cards, thieves can withdraw cash from your account.

In most cases, victims of credit card skimming are often unaware of the theft until they see it on their account statement or receive a call from the bank and in some cases a call from the law enforcement agency investigating the case. It is critical to limit your debit purchases while out in public. Skimming devices will record your electronic card number and your accounts become vulnerable when you use your PIN number out in public.

If your debit card is directly attached to your checking or savings account, you risk having the account drained before you realize it. By using a debit card in public, you are giving the gas station or convenience store access to your bank account. Once your money is gone, it can be more difficult getting it back. If you have to use a debit card out in public, always cover up the PIN number when typing it in. Make sure you look at the skimming device you are going to use and make sure it appears to be part of the total mechanism and not an "add on" device.

There are examples on the internet but unfortunately there are examples of how to make a skimming device also. That is exactly why you should refrain from using your debit card in public and be careful. Your finances are private and should remain private.

Common sense tips:

1) Be very cautious with your card when handing it over to a waiter or waitress and if possible have them process the transaction in front of you.

2) Use a credit card instead of a debit card.

3) Use cash when possible.

4) Use trusted ATMs and make sure someone behind you cannot see you type in your PIN.

5) Keep an eye on your accounts. This can be done by reviewing statements on smart phone applications with instant notification. Otherwise, log on and check your account frequently.

-- Oakhurst resident Gregg Noll is a member of the Fresno Police Department who recently announced he will run for Madera County Sheriff in 2014.

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