As a licensed private investigator and a Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist, I’m naturally well aware of identity theft and the various other crimes that accompany it. But I’m perhaps even better acquainted with these matters because I was actually a victim before I dedicated my professional life to helping others protect themselves from fraud.
‘The aggravation and stress was beyond belief.’
I was 20 years old when I used my credit card at a New Jersey gas station, where, by law, the attendant must pump the gas for you. He or she then takes your credit card to process and pay for the order. Well, several days later, I realized a substantial amount of money was missing from my available credit. I was devastated, confused and didn’t know what to do. At that time credit card theft was on the rise, but not as common as it is nowadays.
I called the number on the back of my card, and the plastic was immediately canceled. The following morning I went to my bank and was told to file a police report. Once that was done, my bank started an investigation. It took two weeks to recover my money; the aggravation and stress was beyond belief.
The police ultimately discovered that the gas attendant was responsible for what they referred to as a “skimming” theft. Within a single week, over 500 people in my town had the same thing happen to them. The gas attendant fled the country, and the police never caught him.
How Skimmers Operate
Skimmers gain access to bank accounts and credit cards by equipping a ATMs and point-of-sale machines with a device that can copy a card’s information. Once the card is inserted, the skimmer reads its magnetic stripe and can later precisely duplicate that card.
Restaurants and retail establishments where customers hand over their cards for payment are quite popular among skimmers. For example, a worker has ample opportunity to swipe the card through the actual payment terminal and their own “skimmer.”
Skating Past Skimmers
With the new chips on credit cards being introduced in the U.S., long after they have been effective in Europe, we can feel a bit more protected, as the information is harder to duplicate.
But if a consumer suspects that their credit card was skimmed, they should notify the credit card issuer immediately to report the potential compromise. The issuer will put your card on hold or cancel it and send you a new one. It is frustrating and time consuming, especially if that card was used to make regular monthly payments, but there really is no alternative in this day and age.
I also recommend notifying the police, just like if any valuable belonging was stolen, as well as “freezing” your credit reports and going on a credit monitoring program. Retrieving your credit report and monitoring it for changes or any unusual activity is the best way to protect yourself against this type of fraud.
Whether a victim of credit card fraud or not, everyone should check their monthly statements on a regular basis to determine whether a card has been compromised without their knowledge. Yes, technology has made it is possible to recover details of a credit card remotely while it is in your pocket or handbag!