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Don’t be a victim!

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Spotting skimmers, phishing scams

By Debbie Gardner

      A recent story about card skimmers showing up in a local, trusted supermarket has brought credit and debit card safe practices to the forefront once again. As paying by “card’ is now a ubiquitous activity, the latest fraud scheme is a good time to review safer ways to handle these cards and card transactions.

      To get an update, Prime reached out to Heather Arbour, vice president, BSA/fraud officer and compliance manager for Monson Savings Bank, for a quick overview of best practices when using your debit or credit card at gas stations, ATMs and local retailers.

      Here’s the advice she shared:

Spotting skimmers

      The first rule of avoiding skimming scams is to be vigilant when it comes to using card-reading devices, according to Arbour. That means taking a close look at the card reader before you swipe or insert your credit or debit card.

      “If it looks like there is something inserted into [the card] slot, that’s a red flag and you don’t want to use that device, bring it to the attention of an employee and don’t use that gas pump or machine,” Arbour said. “Look at the actual card readers as evidence [of tampering], they should be well structured. Some may be somewhat older [but] if it looks like something is misaligned or crooked or out of place, it’s wobbly or loose, that may indicate someone attached something to the machine.”

      She said it also makes sense to become familiar with the appearance of the card readers at the gas stations and stores you frequent. Non-bank ATMs in places like convenience stores or stand-alone ATM kiosks are another place where skimmers are often installed, Arbour added.

“Pay attention to what [the card reader] looks like and if it ever looks different, don’t use it,” Arbour said, adding “There’s a good chance they didn’t put a skimmer on every machine [in a store] so look at the others, if [yours] looks different that’s a good indication that there is a skimmer.”

      Skimmers, Arbour said, work by capturing your banking information during the transaction.

      “When you insert your card, it is reading the transaction information, reading the magnetic strip information [on your card].  If you put your pin number in when using certain skimmers, it will keep the information including your pin,” Arbour said.    

      Some skimming devices are paired with a hidden camera to capture your pin number separately; Arbour said it’s always a good practice to shield your pin input with your hand, just in case.

Safer shopping

      Arbour said when paying by credit card, inserting a card with a chip, using the tap method or even a digital wallet image offers more protection.

      “Chip and contactless cards, those have extra security in the way they encrypt [your banking] information,” Arbour said.  “When you insert or tap the card, it masks the card number and gives it a special encryption through dynamic data information.” This, Arbour said, can safeguard your information if you accidentally use a skimmer as “It’s not recording your account number because it is masking it, making it safer from fraud”

      “If you are using a chip card or contactless payment or even a digital wallet, those types of [payments] process are encrypting your information and can protect from skimmer-type info theft,” Arbour stressed.

      If using the popular digital wallet feature on your phone to conduct contactless payments with your credit or debit card, Arbour suggested one more security step.

      “Whether through an app or on your phone or some company you are using, if it offers a multi-step identification function, use it. When it is a fingerprint or face recognition, if someone gets your device and it requires [something like] facial recognition, that’s another layer of protection,” Arbour shared.

      And whatever way you pay, keep an eye on your accounts by frequently checking your statements or online banking website. “If something does end up happening, report it immediately to the bank or the financial institution for your credit card. They can protect you from further loss,” Arbour said.

More fraud scams to watch for

      “A lot of the fraud that going on includes a lot of phishing scams, where you might not need to swipe your card, they get you to click a link to take you somewhere that gets access to your phone or device or asks for pin number,” Arbour said, adding it’s important to keep up with what the current scams are on the internet and on your cell and regular telephone.  “The Federal Trade Commission has a website [] with tons of information about different scams going on, the different signs to look for and I advocate people look at that info. Scammers are always trying to change what they try [to trap people],” she said.

      For instance, Arbour said, a bank isn’t going to call you and ask you for your pin number.

      “We may ask you to verify your account, but we will not ask for a pin or online baking password,” Arbor said. If you are called by someone claiming to be a bank or financial institution looking for information about an account “call the bank or company directly. Don’t call back the number that called you,” to check on the issue, Arbour stressed.

      Another place to be careful what you share on social media sites, Arbour pointed out.

      Social media posts that ask, ‘What was the year you were born,’ ‘What’s your favorite color,’ ‘What street were you born on’ – they are looking for information online and can use that to bypass authentication questions,” Arbour said. “There are people who do that all day to find information to sell to other criminals.”

      Arbour said to “have your guard up and be careful what you share on social media. It seems fun, but it increases the risk” of identity theft.

      The third scam Arbour said is directly aimed at elders and usually involves phone calls about family members in trouble.

      “They are calling people and pretending to be the grandson, or saying your grandson has been arrested, if you don’t pay by a certain time they’re never going to get out,” Arbour said.

                In these cases, Arbour said, victims often react out of fear for the person. “You end up just doing it,” Arbour said.  If you get a call like that, Arbour advised that you “Slow down, ask a family member for help; they aren’t going to let you do something” out of fear.”