Credit card skimmers: What they are & how to avoid them

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Credit card skimmers are devices that are added to card readers to allow the theft of credit card data. They can come in several forms, but they all try to appear like legitimate credit card terminals, tricking customers into using them. This allows criminals to steal your credit card information. Like other credit card scams, it can be difficult to stop credit card skimming, but there are ways to help prevent it. Read on to learn how to spot a credit card skimmer and tips to avoid getting skimmed.

 

Related: What is a credit card charge off?

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What Is a Credit Card Skimmer?

Credit card skimmers are devices that thieves attach to payment terminals (such as ATMs or gas pumps) to steal card information during a payment transaction.Skimmers can come in several forms, given how credit card payments work.

 

Some skimmers are devices that are physically attached to the payment machine to capture information as you slide in the card to pay. Or, a skimmer may be in the form of a fake keypad. Other forms of physical skimmer devices are “card shimming” devices, which are thin paper strips hidden inside the card slot that clone the magnetic stripe on the card. Some kinds of skimmers may not be physically attached to the payment machine. Hidden cameras can capture your card information, such as your PIN, in order to steal your card information for future use.

How Does a Credit Card Skimmer Work?

A credit card skimmer reads the magnetic stripe on your credit or debit card when you use it to pay at a card reader. The skimmer then stores the card number, expiration date, and cardholder’s name.

What Happens When Your Card Is Skimmed?

After your card is skimmed, hackers usually use the stolen card data to make purchases, sell your data, or create counterfeit cards. Skimmed data is often transmitted to other countries or used to make purchases over the phone or online. Debit cards can also be skimmed. If your debit card was skimmed, then your personal identification number (PIN) might have been stolen as well. That’s because a fake keypad may have been installed over the real keypad, or a camera could have captured your PIN number when you entered it.

How to Identify a Skimmer

Skimmers can be hard to identify, but it’s sometimes possible to spot a skimmer with a visual and physical inspection, especially at locations like ATMs and gas pumps. Here’s what to look for when checking for a credit card skimmer:

  • Look for alignment issues between the card reader and the panel under it. Since skimmers are often placed on top of the card reader, it may stick out at an odd angle. There may also be security tape or stickers that can look ripped or broken.
  • Feel for any loose sections of the card reader or keyboard. Even if you can’t physically see that something is off, you may be able to feel any loose sections of the card reader or keypad. Card readers should not be able to move around, and buttons on ATM keypads shouldn’t be too hard to push.

If you see or feel that something is off, don’t use that machine.

Tips to Prevent Being Skimmed

To prevent being skimmed, it’s important to be proactive before using your card and have a clear understanding of how credit cards work. The best ways to avoid being skimmed generally include remaining aware and mindful.

1. Scan Briefly Before Using Your Card

Before you use your card at a machine, look around for signs of tampering. Potential signs can include loose, crooked or damaged card readers, broken tape, graphics that aren’t aligned, or mismatched machine parts. If you see any of these, avoid this machine. You can compare the machine to another nearby machine to look for differences.

2. Be Mindful of Non-Bank ATMs

Since bank ATMs are often located within a bank with security cameras or in more secure locations, they may be less likely to have been tampered with. Try to avoid using non-bank ATMs whenever possible, especially ones that are located inside convenience stores or bars that have high foot traffic but little security measures.

3. Check and Recheck the Keypad

If the keypads on a card reader are too hard to push, it may be a sign of tampering. Check in and around the keypad for loose, missing, thick, or tough buttons.

4. Conceal Your PIN

When entering your PIN into an ATM, cover your fingers and the screen with your body or your other hand. This can help to block potential cameras or eyes from seeing your number. Also never say your PIN out loud.

5. Remain in Public View

Machines that are in public view may be less likely to have been tampered with, since criminals may have fewer chances to install skimming devices. As such, consider sticking to using machines that are in public view whenever possible.

6. Sign Up for Credit and Debt Alerts

Most card providers have some sort of fraud alert system. Even though alerts won’t actually prevent your card from being fraudulently used, if you can catch the issue immediately, it can help prevent the criminal from continuing to use your card. And, when possible, use a credit card instead of a debit card. Fraudulent charges on a credit card are often easier to dispute than charges on a debit card.

7. Trust Your Instincts

If you feel like something is off, use a different machine or payment method. Sometimes you may not be able to identify a single clue that there’s a skimmer, but the overall feel of the device may give it away.

8. Check Your Account Regularly

Checking your account frequently can help you to identify suspicious purchases right away, rather than waiting until the monthly statement posts (though it’s important to be aware of credit card statement details, too). If you see a purchase that you didn’t make, call your bank immediately.

What to Do If Your Card Is Skimmed

If you suspect that your card has been compromised, contact your card issuer or financial institution as soon as possible by calling the number on the back of your card. In some cases, your card issuer may contact you if they spot any activity that seems suspicious. They’ll likely shut down your card, and you may need to cancel your card and get a new one if it’s been compromised.

 

If you’ve spotted one charge that seems fraudulent, you’ll want to see if there are any others. Check your bank statements to look for any further fraudulent charges, and make sure to report these to your card issuer or financial institution as well. It’s also important to review your credit reports to see if there have been any impacts there.

 

You should also contact the business where you believe the skimming may have occurred so they are aware and can potentially prevent this from happening to more people. Also contact your local law enforcement agency, the consumer division of your state attorney general’s office, and the Federal Trade Commission. Again, this can potentially prevent the skimming from continuing.

Can You Get a Refund if Your Card Gets Skimmed?

Generally, you can get a refund if your credit card gets skimmed. You should look at your credit card terms to see how your card handles fraudulent charges. Your bank or card issuer can inform you about refund options if your card gets skimmed. Typically, the money will get refunded to your account and then a new credit card will be mailed to you since the other card has been compromised. Many top credit cards have zero-liability policies, which means you won’t be liable for any of the amount of the fraudulent charge. Even if your card issuer doesn’t have this policy, per federal law, your maximum liability for fraudulent use of your credit card is $50. Keep in mind that policies for debit cards may differ.

The Takeaway

Unfortunately, credit card skimming can happen. However, now that you know what a credit card skimmer is, there are steps you can take to prevent a thief from stealing your information during a payment transaction. This includes checking your surroundings, being selective about which ATMs you use, checking the card readers you use, and keeping tabs on your account.

 

Related:

This article originally appeared on LanternCredit.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

 

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Here’s what really happens to credit card debt when you die

 

If you have credit card debt, you may have wondered, what happens to credit card debt when you die? When you die, your credit card debt does not die with you. Rather, any remaining debt you have must be paid before assets are distributed to your heirs or surviving spouse. The debt is subtracted from your estate, which is the sum of your assets. If your debts exceed your assets, then your estate is considered insolvent.

 

Read on to learn what happens to credit card debt after death, including who is responsible for credit card debt after death and what steps you should take after a cardholder dies.

 

 

RossHelen / istockphoto

 

An unfortunate part of understanding how credit cards work is grasping who is responsible for credit card debt after death. Typically, relatives aren’t responsible for paying a family member’s credit card debts upon death.

 

However, you may be responsible for paying your deceased loved one’s credit card debt if you cosigned for a credit card, given the responsibility cosigning carries. Joint account holders also can be held responsible for credit card debt left after death since both account holders are equally responsible for paying the credit card balance.

 

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Authorized users, on the other hand, are not usually responsible for the outstanding balance on a deceased person’s account — unless, that is, you live in a community property state. These states, which typically hold spouses responsible for each other’s debts, include:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Idaho
  • Louisiana
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Texas
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin

If you live in one of these states, you may have to pay your spouse’s credit card debts if they die, even if you were only an authorized user on their card.

 

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If you have a relative or loved one who recently passed and left outstanding credit card debt, these are the steps you should take to make sure their debt is properly handled.

 

 

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You’ll likely need to send official copies to various credit card companies and life insurance companies. It may also be needed for other estate purposes.

 

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Using a credit card after the primary cardholder’s death is considered fraud. If you make any payments on the authorized user card, the credit company will accept the credit card payments and can claim that you have taken responsibility for the entire balance of the card. If you don’t have another credit card of your own, you may want to explore how to apply for a credit card.

 

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A spouse or executor of the deceased can request a copy of the person’s credit report to check for all accounts. This way, you’ll know which accounts you’ll need to handle.

 

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You’ll want to make sure to close any accounts that were in the deceased person’s name.

 

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You’ll also want to put a credit freeze on the person’s account. This can help prevent identity theft in the deceased’s name. Only the spouse or executor of the estate is authorized to report this information to the credit bureaus, which include Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.

 

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Making the credit card minimum payment can help prevent a negative effect on your credit score.

 

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If a deceased relative’s credit card debt exceeds their total assets, don’t panic. In the instance the estate doesn’t have enough money to cover all of the deceased’s debt, state law will determine which debt is the highest priority.

Credit cards are considered unsecured loans, which are lower in priority for loan repayments after death. Mortgages and car loans are secured by collateral, so they are considered higher priority. Often, unsecured debt may not even get paid.

 

It’s also important to know that some types of assets are protected from creditors in the event of death. This includes retirement accounts, life insurance proceeds, assets held in a living trust, and brokerage accounts. Homes may also be protected, though this will depend on state law and how title to the property is held.

 

Remember: Credit card companies can’t legally ask you to pay credit card debts that aren’t your responsibility.

 

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The best way to keep your loved ones from having to deal with your credit card debt is to responsibly manage your credit card balances while you’re alive. For instance, you can avoid spending up to your credit card limit each month to make your balance easier to pay off. You can also take the time to look for a good APR for a credit card to minimize the interest that racks up if you can’t pay off your balance in full each month.

 

Knowing your credit card debt won’t disappear after you die may also make you think twice before making a charge. For instance, while you can technically pay taxes with a credit card, it might not be worth it if it will just add interest to the amount you owe.

 

If a loved one has recently passed and you shared accounts in any way, keep an eye on your own credit reports and credit card statements. Make sure to dispute credit card charges that you think are incorrect.

 

tommaso79/ iStock

 

If you want to avoid passing down the issue of sorting out your debt, you can have an attorney create a will or trust. A will or trust will offer your loved one’s guidance on where you’d like your assets to go after your death, and, in some cases, could allow them to bypass the sometimes costly and time-consuming process of probate.

 

However, making a will or trust won’t necessarily stop debt collectors from contacting your family members after your death — even if those family members aren’t responsible for the debt. Keep in mind that the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act does prohibit deceptive and abusive contact by debt collectors, so your loved ones will have some legal protections from excessive collections efforts.

 

Still, it’s important to share as much information as you can about your debt with family members so that they’re aware of your finances after you are no longer there. You don’t need to share information as personal as the CVV number on your credit card or your credit card expiration date, but it is helpful for your loved ones to have an idea of how many accounts you have and what the general state of them is.

 

Damir Khabirov / istockphoto

 

Do I have to pay my deceased parent’s credit card debt?

You don’t have to pay your deceased parent’s credit card debt unless you were a cosigner on their credit card. If you were an authorized user on your parent’s credit card, you are not responsible for their debt.

Do credit card companies know when someone dies?

You should notify the credit card company when your close relative dies to close any accounts in their name. You should also notify the three consumer credit bureaus of the death to put a credit freeze on the person’s account to prevent identity theft.

Can credit card companies take your house after death?

Homes are usually protected from creditors in the event of death, though this does depend on state law and how the title of the property is held. In general, however, credit card companies usually can’t take your house after death.

Is my spouse responsible for my credit card debt?

Your spouse is not responsible for your credit card debt unless they were a cosigner on your credit card. If they were an authorized user on your credit card, they generally are not responsible for your credit card debt unless you live in a community property state. In these states, which include California, Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin, your spouse may be held responsible for your credit card debt when you die, even if they were just an authorized user on your card.

 

fizkes / istockphoto

 

Unfortunately, you don’t get automatic credit card debt forgiveness after death. While your loved ones generally won’t be held responsible for your debt — unless you have a joint account, served as a cosigner, or live in a community property state — your debts are still deducted from your estate. If you want to avoid leaving your loved ones with a mountain of debt, the most important step you can take is to responsibly manage your credit cards while you’re still here.

 

This article originally appeared on SoFi.com and was syndicated by MediaFeed.org.

 

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