Card skimmers
Privately-owned ATMs are more prone to card skimming scams.

Have you seen a loose card reader on an ATM or discolouration between the machine's body and the card reader? According to the FBI, scammers increasingly use card skimming devices to collect credit or debit card data from the magnetic stripe when a card is swiped, costing consumers and banks almost $1 billion annually.

Card skimming devices blend in easily when fixed inside or over card slots of ATMs, gas pumps, and payment terminals in stores, making them difficult to spot. Scammers also use phishing tactics like installing hidden cameras nearby or placing an artificial keypad over the original to record keystrokes. Phishing involves threat actors accessing your data by impersonating a person or a company you trust, often through emails and social media platforms.

Fair, Isaac, and Company (FICO), a data analytics firm that designed the FICO credit score models, revealed that the number of debit cards compromised by card skimming activities jumped 96% year over year in 2023, with over 315,000 impacted cards identified.

A June 21 press release from the United States Secret Service reported that it inspected over 472 businesses in three Florida cities as reports of rising card skimming and Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) fraud continue to emerge. The Secret Service, in collaboration with local law enforcement, recovered 13 skimming devices, preventing an estimated potential loss of $1.3 million.

An EBT card allows Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants to buy food at authorised stores using SNAP benefits. EBT cards are like bank debit cards, but money is debited from your SNAP EBT account to reimburse the store for the food purchased. The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services reportedly estimated that Washington residents on EBT assistance lost nearly $5.5 million in the last two years due to skimming.

Other states like Virginia and New York have also issued recent alerts about an alarming rise in card skimming activities. EBT cards are easier targets for scammers since most aren't chip-enabled.

How To Avoid Losing Money To Card Skimming Fraud

According to the Federal Trade Commission, EBT cards usually require a PIN that threat actors can't easily lift from the machine. However, the agency recommends a quick scan for signs of tampering with the point-of-sale machine or ATM, such as loose card readers.

A damaged machine, misaligned graphics, texturally mismatched faceplate, and hard-to-press keypads are hints to watch out for. Non-bank ATMs, primarily found in bars, grocery stores, and restaurants, are also becoming targets for scammers. FICO estimates that 60% of skimming happens at privately owned ATMs.

The FTC recommends changing PINs at least once a month, checking for suspicious debits or charges on the EBT account, and staying vigilant of phishing to minimise skimming risks.

"The easiest way to check for a skimmer is to gently pull up on the terminal. They are flimsy and will come right off," said the New York Office of Temporary Disability. "If you notice any signs that a skimmer may be in use, do not swipe your card and alert the store manager. Contact the police and notify your local department of social services as soon as possible."

Another way to stay safe is to use your mobile wallet, like Apple Pay, rather than swiping cards. Payments through mobile wallets tokenise your card data, which is useless to scammers. It is also wise to use payment terminals with security cams in public view since they are less likely to be tampered with.

EBT cardholders can protect their benefits by using the card freeze feature when their card is not in use. Freezing your EBT card blocks purchases, balance inquiries, and transactions. You can unfreeze the card whenever you shop with a single click on the ebtEDGE mobile app.

If your EBT benefit is stolen, you must contact EBT Customer Service to report your card stolen and request a replacement EBT card before applying for replacement benefits.