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Be vigilant to prevent bank card skimming

Be vigilant to prevent bank card skimming

Cards are vulnerable to skimming in a variety of ways. Be vigilant when you use yours

I was talking to a client last week who is currently living in the USA for work reasons and she told me how her bank account had been compromised. When I asked her what she meant, she told me her card had been cloned and those responsible were trying to use it to buy sports goods amounting to $2,500.

Her bank contacted her because they thought the transaction was odd and not in line with her normal purchases so they called to verify the purchase, which is when this whole issue came to light.

You might think how could anyone get access to your account without the use of your card? But they can by replicating your card by a method known as skimming.

It is a simple procedure where a device is inserted into any machine that accepts visa and debit cards. It allows them to capture all of your cards details which can then be used to buy items and take money from your account.

You might think ATMs are the focus for criminals when they are trying to skim card details, and they still are, but they have moved on to other machines as well which are less obvious, like car park machines, ticket collection machines at the cinema etc. They might not be as obvious as an ATM so you might not be concerned, but think again and be careful when using them. In fact, be careful when inserting your card into any machine that accepts cards.

When I travel to Dublin for business, there is a car park I use all the time and use my credit card to pay for my stay. And I never think twice about the machine I put my card into. The thought that my card could be skimmed never crosses my mind. I just insert it, key in my pin number, wait for it to be verified and my ticket and card to be returned. I’m not going to be as blasé when I use it again I can tell you.

There are some tell-tale signs to look out for when putting your card into a machine and some are; a bulky card slot; if the slot is loose or hard to insert your card into; if the pin pad you are typing your number into is loose and soft to touch. If any of these are apparent on the machine you are using, or you are in any doubt at all, don’t put your card into the machine. The machine might be fine, but it is better to be safe than sorry.

Getting card details from unsuspecting consumers continues to evolve and criminals don’t need to install devices on to machines anymore to get your card details. A device is now being used which is reported to be able to skim the details of as many as 15 cards a second. It is a hand held device and if I was to describe it for you, it looks like a portable hard drive you store files and pictures on.

Criminals can use it to get card details from people standing near them (8cm is about the range it can read cards from), and then use the data captured i.e. name, card number, expiry date etc. and import them on to blank cards using special software.

What’s disturbing about this is the device used to capture card details is being sold by dealers on the street or it can be sourced and bought on the internet as well.

Disturbingly, in an interview on the BBC, one leading cyber security expert said when interviewed that a particular type of cloning machine which cloned cards by swiping them could be bought from one of the world’s biggest on-line retailers for £150.

The card they replicate can purchase items using the contactless feature. So, they can purchase items using this facility on items up to €30 three times a day. Given there are c. 3 million contactless cards in Ireland with over 20,000 stores accepting contactless payments, the opportunity for criminals is enormous.

The issue I see with this form of scam is that you may not immediately know there is money being taken from your account. Would you notice €20 or €30 from your account every other day if you weren’t looking at your account on-line every week and checking transactions?

Probably not, which is why it is so dangerous and why you must be vigilant by checking your transactions at least once a week to make sure nothing untoward is happening to your money.

My client in the States was alerted because they tried to take $2,500 from her account. But had they tried to spend $50 every time on a number of different transactions, it might not have come to her or her bank’s attention quite so quick.

So, is there a way you can protect your cards from being cloned from the person sitting next to you at a restaurant or on the bus?

There is, and it’s a very simple and cheap way, and it’s lining your wallet or purse with tin foil. This measure has proven successful in preventing contactless cards being read and cloned. Or you can buy wallets on line that have the protection required built inside the wallet lining, or you can buy credit card looking cards that sit in front and behind your actual card that blocks them from being read or you can buy an aluminium card holder.

The moral of the story is to be vigilant. And whether you are inserting your card into a ticket or ATM machine or whether you are using it to pay for a coffee, be wary of those around you. Don’t make it easy for them by leaving it on the table for a few minutes after you have paid for lunch, before you put it back in your wallet – put it back quickly and preferably into a wallet that offers some protection.

Liam Croke is MD of Harmonics Financial Ltd,

based in Plassey. He can be contacted at or

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