Scam alert: Card skimmers found in grocery store payment terminals

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We’ve warned consumers about ATM and gas station skimmers for a while, but there’s now a new threat to your wallet that’s popping up inside more and more grocery stores.

A skimmer is a small electronic device that can be attached to an ATM where you insert your card. It’s used by criminal rings to illegally capture your card information. And sometimes it’s implemented in conjunction with a surveillance camera that captures you punching in your secret code. 

Once the crooks have all your info, within minutes they make a duplicate of your card and start emptying your account all around town and sometimes even overseas. 

Read more: Identity theft guide

The new threat

Banks have discovered, and Safeway has confirmed, that thieves were able to install skimmers into the store’s credit-card processing machines, allowing them to steal people’s card data in PINs.

According to Krebs on Security, banks traced the scam back to Safeway stores by figuring out that the same customers whose accounts were drained had also used the same checkout aisles at Safeway. Affected stores were in California and Colorado, and the problem could have started as early as September of this year.

In order for a skimming device like this to work, it has to be physically installed into the credit card machines inside the store.

The takeaway

This is just another reason to be very cautious when using a debit card. Debit cards carry a lot of hidden dangers, and in cases like this, if a thief drains your account, you can pretty much consider that money gone forever. On the other hand, with a credit card, you have certain protections from your credit card company and it’s much easier to get your money back if your account is compromised.

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Read more: 9 places you should never use a debit card

Here are a few ways you can protect yourself against scams like this one:

  • Grab the plastic slot on an ATM where you insert your card and shake it to make sure that it doesn’t come loose. If it’s moving up and down in your hand, there may be a skimmer attached.
  • Use your free hand to cover your other hand as you punch in your secret code. Remember, you may be on a crook’s candid camera or someone may be viewing you remotely with binoculars.
  • If you don’t carry huge money in your checking account, you might consider instituting a daily limit on ATM withdrawals. Check with your bank or credit union for more details.
  • If you can, ditch your debit card for cash and/or a credit card.
  • Avoid using a debit card at places that are popular for scammers: ATMs, gas station pumps, grocery stores, online. Here are more places to never used a debit card.
  • Check your bank statements daily. If your account is compromised, you may be able to catch it quickly and avoid more damage if you keep up with your accounts regularly.
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