Card Skimming — What is it and how do I protect myself?

Skimming is a very sophisticated fraud that essentially copies the data that's on your credit or debit card's magnetic strip. With that information, they create a cloned card which is an exact duplicate of yours. The cloned card is used to make purchases in your name and withdraw funds from your account. 

How can they do that?

Criminals (usually in organized crime) sometimes alter the function of an ATM machine or point of sale (POS) device. Other times, they replace the POS device altogether, typically without the retailer's staff or you ever knowing. The POS device collects your account information and PIN, and the thieves create a cloned card and access your account, sometimes weeks or months later. Skimming seems to occurs in waves, with a great number of victims every time.

Does it matter which financial institution I deal with?

Unfortunately, no. There are just a few suppliers of CHIP cards and they supply all of Canada's financial institutions. This means that the security and the technology of each financial institution’s card is very similar, if not identical. The risk of skimming mostly depends on where you use your card, not who issued it.

How can I avoid being a victim?

It can be very difficult to spot a skimming device, so your best bet is to use the following options:

Change your PIN every few months. It usually takes criminals this long before they compile and replicate stolen information onto cloned cards. If you change your PIN regularly, by the time the criminals attempt to use your stolen information, the PIN will be outdated. Handy tip: have several PINs in rotation, just don't switch back to the PIN you used immediately before.

Keep your card in sight after you've handed it to the clerk and make sure they swipe it through only one POS machine.

Whenever possible, use the “tap” feature on your ACU credit or debit card instead of inserting your card or swiping. (Note: not all POS terminals accept this yet as it requires an equipment upgrade.)

If you are asked to swipe your card instead of using the CHIP and PIN method, be cautious and don't be afraid to ask why. Consider changing your PIN ASAP after you proceed with the transaction.

Avoid using white label ATMs whenever possible. They may not be checked for skimming devices as often or as thoroughly as those at credit unions or banks, which are typically checked daily.


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