Credit card fraud: How to beat card skimmers

posted in Best Practices

credit card fraud

Credit card fraud is a serious problem for South Africans. According to Sabric, in 2016 the South African banking industry experienced a devastating loss of R374.4 million in credit card fraud alone, up by 13% since 2015.

While the total Rand value lost is related to different forms of fraud, knowing that lost and stolen card fraud, counterfeit card transactions, account takeovers, and card not present fraud account for a combined R367,7 million in losses doesn’t provide any relief for consumers who rely on the convenience of regular credit card transactions.
Sabric credit card fraud image

Source: Sabric Card Fraud Booklet 2016

Credit card fraud and card skimming

There are various ways for criminals to get their hands on your credit card and hard-earned cash, but card skimming is the most common, and one of the most advanced methods.

According to most sources, card skimming took off in the 1990s, and back then card skimming techniques were not nearly as sophisticated as they are today. While the basic act of skimming cards has remained the same, the devices have become almost indistinguishable from the devices consumers are used to using to complete everyday transactions.

In a typical card skimming scenario, the perpetrator is someone with  access to a consumer’s credit card during a transaction. Perpetrators can be cashiers, waiters, petrol attendants or, in some cases,  ATM machines with  skimming devices attached to them.

When a card owner presents the card for the transaction to be completed, it is passed through the skimmer, allowing for the card information to be copied and stored on the skimmer. Card skimmers are almost unerringly efficient devices capable of capturing data from hundreds of cards a day.

Card skimmer courtesy of Mybroadband

Can you spot the suspicious card skimming device? Upon closer inspection, you’ll notice that typical card machines do not have enough space within the device to take an entire card during a transaction. The card skimmer is therefore the device on the left. Image source:

Credit card skimming is evolving due to measures taken by credit card providers to curb card fraud. With the introduction of chip and pin cards, card providers hope to create an extra level of authentication, preventing the opportunity for fraud to take place when cards are stolen.

The challenge, however, is preventing credit card fraud in the face of a potential card skimming event. Card fraudsters are cunning and, in a bid to capitalise on unsuspecting consumers, they’ve adapted their devices to mimic those that consumers use to transact every day.

Your transaction at a restaurant or petrol station could be handled by a card skimmer, designed to capture your card details and pin as you punch it in to complete your transaction. But not all is lost. There are preventative measures that you can take before each credit card transaction you complete.

How to prevent card skimming

Card skimming can only occur when a credit card is presented, making it possible for you to control what happens to your card when you use it. While keeping it safe and locked away at home would be the ultimate form of credit card fraud prevention, that would obviously be impractical.

Here are four simple and easy-to-perform actions that will help you prevent your credit card from being compromised:

  1. Keep an eye on your card

When presenting your card at restaurants, bars, retail outlets and petrol stations, keep an eye on your card from the moment you hand it to the person managing the transaction until you receive it back. In these settings, credit card fraudsters need to be able to pass your card through a skimmer to complete the transaction. Often, fraudsters will try to either distract you or create a reason to break the line of sight you’ll otherwise have on your card, giving them just enough time to swipe it.

  1. Inspect the card machine

Most card machines have unique designs, however, all card machines require a series of steps to be completed before a card is inserted. Here are a few things to look for before, during and after your next card machine transaction:

i) Be sure that your cashier presents the card machine and initiates the transaction in front of you

ii) Ensure that the cashier confirms the amount of the transaction with the value on the till

iii) Confirm that the device is connected via a cellphone signal and that it shows signal strength

iv) Check that you receive your receipt once the transaction is complete

  1. Make sure you get SMS notifications for credit card transactions

Most banks offer an SMS notification service for free, however, you need to activate the service to use it. Activating SMS notification eliminates the opportunity for fraud to take place without you being aware of it or until you receive your credit card statement at the end of the month.

  1. Give ATMs a quick inspection

ATMs are built to withstand a considerable amount of user interaction, making them look and feel very strong, without moving or loose parts. Before you transact at an ATM, here are two things to check:

i) Ensure that the card reader is firmly secured by holding it and then attempting to remove it. If it comes off, the ATM has been tampered with.

ATM card skimming device

Beware of fake ATM card readers.

ii) Inspect the keypad to see if it is fixed to the ATM. Do this by using your card and attempt to lift the keypad off the ATM by slotting your card into a gap between the keypad and the ATM. Do this gently so that you don’t break your card. If you are successful in removing the keypad, the ATM has been tampered with.


Always check the keypad on the ATM you are about to use.

Always check the keypad on the ATM you are about to use.


Credit card fraud has been around for a long time, and while technology evolves, so do credit card fraudsters and the technology they use. Being vigilant during credit card transactions is ultimately the most important measure you can take to prevent fraud.

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