How to Spot a Credit Card SkimmerDon't fall victim to credit card fraud at the ATM or the gas station.

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Credit card fraud is a thriving industry in the U.S. — in 2016, hacked credit card fraud reached a record $4 billion, according to CNBC. It’s essential you take whatever steps you can to avoid becoming a victim and adding to that statistic in 2017.

Thieves can steal you your credit card information in a number of ways, including placing a card skimmer on payment machines. Credit card fraud can cause you serious inconveniences, including dinging your credit or costing you money in unwanted purchases if you don’t report it soon enough. Remain vigilant when you use your credit cards to protect your credit card information from thieves at gas stations, ATMs and other places.

How Credit Card Skimmers Work

A skimmer is a device a criminal adds to a credit card reader that enables him to steal your card information when you swipe it to pay for something. A skimming device is either designed for external or internal use — external skimmers attach to the outside of the card reader, and internal skimmers go inside the machine.

Thieves typically equip skimmers with Bluetooth technology so they don’t have to physically access the machine to download the stolen information. Once the thief has your information, he can use it to make unauthorized purchases on your card. Look for skimmers at unattended credit card readers like ATMs, gas stations and self-checkout lines in grocery stores.

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How to Spot a Skimmer

To spot an external skimmer, look for anything that appears to fit over the outside of the card reader. The skimmer might feel looser, be a different color or look newer than the rest of the card reader.

Internal skimmers are much more difficult to detect because they’re on the inside of the machine. One way to check if a machine has one attached to it is to look at the security seal — it covers the gap where someone can open the machine to repair it. If the security seal has been compromised, the word “void” will be on the tape; if it is, don’t use the machine and report it immediately to someone who works there.

An automated teller machine is a common target for a skimmer. One credit card fraud prevention tactic is to use only ATMs that are inside the bank or that are equipped with cameras. As a general rule of thumb, if you have the option to use a chip reader, do so instead of swiping your card — it’s more secure.

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What to Do If Your Card Is Skimmed

If you see a gas station skimmer or an ATM skimmer, report it immediately. Take a photo of the device but don’t touch it because it might contain evidence that will lead authorities to the criminal.

If you think you’ve been a victim of credit or debit card fraud, act quickly to limit your liability for any fraudulent charges. By knowing how to review your bank statement for errors and fraud, you can avoid financial losses. You typically have 60 days to notify your institution and limit your losses to $50. For example, if a gas pump skimmer gets your card information and you see credit fraud on your next statement, notify your bank within 60 days — if you don’t, you might be liable for all the unauthorized charges.

Your maximum liability for credit card fraud charges is $50. If you report credit card fraud to your card issuer before the thief makes any charges, however, your liability will be $0. Some card issuers offer credit card fraud protection and waive the $50 liability, so find out if yours does.

If you do fall prey to a credit card skimmer, make sure you check your credit report for other signs of theft. The most important thing you can do to recover from fraud is alert your credit card company and the authorities as soon as you know you’ve been scammed.

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