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Skimming devices can be difficult to spot and technology is improving the ways thieves use skimmers to obtain your personal information. But in the battle against skimming devices, inspectors from the Division of Standards recently told us how technology is also helping consumers detect a skimming device before they swipe their card.

Skimming is the theft of credit and debit card information used in an otherwise legal transaction. It often occurs at ATMs and gas stations, but it could even happen at a restaurant. Skimmers can be placed at the slots where you insert or swipe your card and record your account information. Devices used to work in such a way that thieves had to manually retrieve the device. Bluetooth technology allows the information to be uploaded remotely in an instant.

A few companies have developed an app for smart phones with scanning technology to alert consumers of skimming devices in their vicinity. The developers claim that if the app picks up a specific Bluetooth signal, there is a skimmer and consumers may want to consider not use the pump or ATM.

Consumers who are interested in downloading a skimmer-detection app should check their phone manufacturer’s app store. Please keep in mind: the Office of Consumer Affairs does not test the functionality or reliability of any app and our discussions of such app do not constitute an endorsement or recommendation for its use.

There are steps you can take to detect skimming devices and protect your account information on your own:

  • Use pumps closest to the attendants and be aware of lighting conditions. The darkest, furthest pump is a thief’s ideal target.
  • Pay inside and use cash when possible. Credit and debit cards account for more than half of all U.S. gasoline purchases, making it all too easy for thieves to acquire your information.
  • Check the condition of the pumps and pay attention to details. Sometimes there are slight abnormalities that you may detect. If it looks suspicious or if you spot any sign of tampering, immediately notify an attendant and make sure the police are called.
  • ATMs are built to be sturdy. If a part is wiggling, or something looks suspicious or like it doesn’t belong, don’t use that ATM and notify your bank immediately.
  • Monitor your bank account daily and check your credit card statements. Notify your bank or card issuer if anything looks unusual or if you spot fraudulent charges.

If you think you may be a victim of skimming, there are a few things you should consider doing. First, contact your bank or credit card company to close your accounts before fraudulent transactions are made. You may also want to contact the three major credit bureaus and place freezes on your credit files. Inform the police of the skimming device and file a report with the Federal Trade Commission. For more information about what steps you can take, read our Consumer’s Checklist for Handling Identity Theft.

If you have additional questions, contact the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation by calling our Consumer Hotline at (617) 973-8787, or toll-free in MA at (888) 283-3757, Monday through Friday, from 9 am-4:30 pm. Follow the Office on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer. The Baker-Polito Administration’s Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation along with its five agencies work together to achieve two goals: to protect and empower consumers through advocacy and education, and to ensure a fair playing field for Massachusetts businesses. The Office also oversees the state’s Lemon Laws and Arbitration Program, Data Breach reporting, Home Improvement Contractor Programs and the MA Do Not Call Registry.

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