Protecting yourself from credit card skimming scams

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Criminals have made off with as much as 3 billion dollars worldwide using devices that skim information from your cards. (WPVI)

The next time you insert your credit or debit card to get money or make a purchase, beware.

Criminals have made off with as much as 3 billion dollars worldwide using devices that skim information from your cards.

The use of skimmers at ATMs especially has exploded - more than 5 times higher last year than the year before.

But there are ways to protect yourself.

Mary Marichak had no idea crucial financial information was copied from her debit card when she swiped it at an ATM.

The first sign of trouble was when her debit card was rejected when she tried to pay for gas.

"So I ran home to check my account and realized that money was missing from my account and then the lightbulb went off that something weird had happened," she recalled.

Police detective James Lilla showed us the hardware thieves install at ATMs, a skimmer to copy the card information and a tiny camera to record you typing in your PIN number.

"Most commonly the criminals remove the devices and then use the information to create a duplicate debit card that they can then use to drain your account," said Nikhil Huteesing from Consumer Reports.

Covering the PIN pad as you type is one way to try to thwart the scheme.

But there's a new type of skimming device that doesn't use a camera.

It's a fake card reader that fits snugly over the real one you often find in stores.

First it reads your card information. Then,when you type in your PIN...

"The PIN number is extracted and stored in the PIN pad overlay," said Detective Lilla.

"This type of point-of-sale skimmer is usually attached with double-sided tape. So if you can tug it loose, don't use it. And be sure to report it to store management," said Hutheesing.

This tangle of elastic bands is another type of skimmer but you can't spot it because it's placed deep inside a gas pump.

Increasingly, ATMs are also being compromised by devices called deep-insert skimmers that can't be detected from the outside.

"The bad guys will insert a skimmer way deep into the mouth of the ATM, so as a customer you will never see it," said Detective Lilla.

Chip cards with their improved security features are safer to use but only if just the chip end is inserted into the card reader.

So constantly monitor your accounts online for suspicious activity and report any concerns immediately.

Mary did and got all of her money back from her credit union.
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