You might have already seen the headline plastered across local news sites, but Delaware State Police have issued a warning concerning credit card skimmers. After the recent discovery of skimmers on gas pumps and ATMs in Newark, New Castle, Harrington, and Seaford, residents are urged to be vigilant and stay ahead of the threat.

So what is credit card skimming?

Credit card skimming is a type of credit card theft where theives use a small device to steal credit and debit card information in an otherwise legitimate transaction. Skimmers are often placed over the card swipe mechanism on ATMs and gas pumps, but they can also be placed over almost any type of card reader. With ATMs, the theives may also place a small camera nearby to record you entering your PIN.

What happens if my credit card is skimmed?

When a credit or debit card is swiped through a skimmer, the device captures and stores the information stored on the card’s magnetic stripe: the card number, expiration date, and the card holder’s full name. The stolen information can then be used to make fraudulent charges online, or the theives can create a counterfeit credit card. If a thief records you entering your debit card PIN, they have all the information needed to create a new card and withdraw cash from your checking account.

How can I spot a credit card skimmer?

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to notice a credit card skimmer if you’re not explicitly looking for one. Skimming devices are created to blend in seamlessly with the machine it’s placed on.

There’s a skimming device on this ATM. Can you find it?


Take a look at where you would insert your credit card. The two raised arrows embedded into the machine point to where the card should go, but the arrows are too close to yellow card reader. This is a sign that the yellow card skimmer was installed over the original card reader. If the awkward placement wasn’t an immediate giveaway, the mismatched color is also a major red flag that something is wrong with this ATM.

It’s okay if you didn’t get that one immediately — it’s a tough one. Here’s a few things to look for next time you use a card:

  • A card reader that sticks out far past the panel. Skimmers are designed to fit over an original card reader. If you notice a credit card reader that protrudes farther than the rest of the machine, it may be a skimmer. This is especially the important when an additional part seems to be stuck onto the rest of the reader.
  • Parts of the credit card reader are loose or move when jiggled. The credit card reader should be an integral part of the ATM or gas pump. Moving parts are a sign the card reader has been tampered with or that a skimming device has been affixed to the existing reader.
  • A pinpad that’s thicker than normal. In addition to a skimming device, thieves may place a fake keypad on top of the real one to capture your PIN or zip code. If the keys seem hard to push, eject your card and use another ATM or gas pump.

How can I prevent credit card skimming?

Even though it seems like a widespread problem, skimming fraud only happens to a small percentage of people. It’s a major risk for the theives, as they have to return to the compromised machine to pickup the skimming device when they’re finished. To stay ahead of the thieves, here’s a few tips to prevent your card from being skimmed:

  • Be careful where you shop. Restaurants, bars, and gas stations tend to be the places where credit card incidents happen most frequently. You can also find skimmers at retail store self-checkouts and ATMs, especially standalone ATMs not attached to a bank.
  • When in doubt, use a credit card (not a bank or debit card) or cash to make your purchase. Credit card fraud is easier to report and reverse than an immediate cash transaction, which can take weeks to rectify.
  • Whenever possible, use a chip reader rather than a card swipe. Chip readers authorize the card on the device and your personal information is never transmitted.
  • Use Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, or Android Pay if the device accepts one of those payment methods. These services create a “virtual credit card number” that doesn’t include any sensitive information.
  • Stay private at the ATM. At ATMs, skimmers often place a camera within view of the keypad to steal your PIN. These cameras are usually small and hidden out of sight. When you’re using an ATM, cover your hand when you type your PIN so the camera, and everyone around you, can’t see what you type.
  • Monitor your credit card and bank accounts regularly. You might not have noticed you fell victim to a card skimmer, but you might notice when your account shows strange transactions. By monitoring your accounts on a regular basis, you’re more likely to spot fraudulent charges in time for them to be reversed.

What if I’ve fallen victim to a skimmer?

If you think you’re a victim of credit card skimming, contact your bank or credit card issuer even if you haven’t noticed any fraudulent charges yet. The sooner you report your suspicions, the better the chances the fraud can be stopped or reversed. In addition, provide as much detail about the location of the skimmer (e.g. the location of the ATM or gas station you visited) to local law enforcement in the town or county in which the incident occurred.