Debit and credit cards provide convenient forms of payment. Using them can also make it convenient for the bad guys who want to take information from consumers at point of purchase. One method they use is attaching small plastic devices, known as skimmers and shimmers, to card readers on electronic payment terminals, which can put your account and personal information at risk. See the tips below to learn how you can help protect yourself.

Skimmers (Magnetic Strip Cards)

Skimmers are subtle plastic devices attached to ATMs, gas pumps and other electronic payment terminals to capture and record data, such as account and personal information, from the magnetic strip on the back of your debit or credit card. Once criminals obtain a skimmer’s data, they can create a counterfeit debit or credit card.

In some cases, concealed video cameras also are installed to record a customers’ individualized PIN, as it is keyed in at the point of sale.

Skimmers may be challenging to detect, as they often resemble an additional plastic layer surrounding the debit and credit card slot at the payment terminal. Notable warning signs that a skimmer may be installed on an ATM or electronic payment terminal include, but are not limited to, cracked plastic, chipped paint, loose equipment or ripped tape.

Shimmers (Chip Cards)

Shimmers also present a risk to the security of your debit and credit card information. Much smaller than skimmers, shimmers are inserted inside an ATM or sales terminal’s dip reader. Shimmers scan the microchip on your card and record identifiable information, such as account numbers, for fraudulent purposes. Shimmers can be installed quickly and very discretely. Data collected by shimmers cannot be used to create a counterfeit chip card, but could be used to create a counterfeit magnetic strip card.

Typically, shimmers are undetectable at a glance because they are located within the machine. While shimmers are challenging to detect, a card that is unusually slow or resists ejecting from the terminal could indicate that a shimmer is present.

Help Protect Yourself

In addition to being aware of potential security risks, there are steps you can take to help protect yourself from credit and debit card fraud through skimmers and shimmers.

  • Look around. Before inserting your debit or credit card into an ATM, gas pump or card reader terminal, take a moment to search for visible damage, loose equipment or other possible warning signs that a skimmer or shimmer may have been installed at the machine.

  • Cover the PIN pad while you enter your PIN. This tip will not protect against the skimmer or shimmer, but it can help ensure that your PIN number is not captured by any cameras that bad actors have set up near the compromised card reader.

  • Notify PNC. If you are concerned that an ATM, gas pump or other card reader you used may have been altered by a skimmer or shimmer, notify PNC and review your accounts for unauthorized activity.

“Be alert while using an ATM. If you notice anything suspicious about the machine or the surrounding area, cancel your transaction and leave,” said Ken Justice, a senior vice president of technology who manages PNC’s 9,000 ATMs. “Report the ATM to the bank or local law enforcement.”

You should monitor the activity on your account. If you notice any suspicious or unauthorized transactions, notify PNC immediately.