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If you’ve recently swiped a credit card or debit card at a Boston-area gas station pump, an ATM or a retail outlet, you should be aware of the common fraud practice known as credit card skimming. In this scheme, thieves install a phony device on credit card readers to steal your card’s information, and then use that financial data to make fraudulent purchases. Skimming is pretty big business for thieves, costing consumers and businesses $8 billion annually, according to LifeLock.
Boston residents should be on high alert as a credit card skimming device was recently found in Quincy, Hingham and in Attleboro. While this ploy to nab credit card information is spreading across Boston and can be hard to spot, there are still a few steps you can take to better protect yourself against this type of fraud. Here are five ways to avoid credit card skimming.
1. Pay Inside for Gas
One of the easiest ways to protect yourself from skimming fraud is to simply pay inside for gas instead of swiping at the pump, since the pump is a popular location for skimming devices. Another good idea is to pay for gas in cash instead of credit, especially if your credit card doesn’t offer rewards or cash back for gas purchases.
2. Look for Tampering
If you still want to pay for cash with credit, keep a close eye on the machine Try jiggling or tugging on the reader at the pump before swiping your card. If the keypad moves or looks like it has been tampered with, it’s possible a skimming device has been placed on the keypad, so it’s a good idea to pay inside and alert the clerk. Gas pumps, for example, also have tamper-evident seals. If you see that the seal on the pump is broken or has been tampered with, don’t use that machine.
3. Watch Your Card When Paying at Restaurants
Credit card skimming can also occur at restaurants after the waiter collects your credit card for the bill. For example, a server at a Springfield Chinese restaurant was charged with skimming fraud in 2015, and police say the man ran customers’ cards through a portable skimmer-scanner he kept in his pocket. Always keep an eye on your card, but if you’re concerned with skimming at restaurants, simply use cash instead of credit.
4. Use Credit Cards Over Debit Cards
This way, if you happen to fall victim to skimming, the thief can’t clear out your bank account.Credit cards also come with zero liability protection, which means the card issuer won’t hold you responsible for unauthorized transactions — as long as you promptly report the credit card fraud.
5. Pay Attention to Your Bank Statements
Check them every single month and compare it to your credit card receipts, so you can contact your bank or credit union immediately if you’ve been a victim. For example, if you use a City of Boston Credit Union credit card, you can rely on them to personally help you through the process to rectify your situation.
“City of Boston Credit Union offers 24-hour access phone numbers for members to call anytime if they suspect fraudulent activity on their account,” said Karla McCarron, vice president of marketing at City of Boston Credit Union. “Members that utilize our home banking tool can also immediately log into their account online and deactivate their card.”
When it comes to preventing credit card skimming in Boston, being careful is the best approach. Try not to use any machines that look unusual, and always be on alert for suspicious activity.