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How debit-card skimming works

Here are some ways thieves steal information from ATMs and point-of-sale debit-card readers:

Switch the entire device

Thieves replace the entire card-reading device with their own, then recover the machine after it's filled with customers' data.

Install a card skimmer

Thieves insert a device into an existing machine -- a skimmer -- that reads account info from users' cards; this device may transfer that info wirelessly.

Install a camera

Thieves install a tiny camera that enables them to see PINs that are entered on the keypad; a transmission antenna sends the information wirelessly.

Store card reader

Card skimmer Thief's card reader Hidden micro camera

How to protect yourself

ATMs at banks may be safer than those at gas stations -- banks have more experience with security. Credit-card transactions are more secure because you have more time to dispute charges.

Don't use an ATM or payment machine if the equipment appears altered, such as if there's glue residue around the keypad or card slot. Feel the card slot to see if it is raised, suggesting thieves have inserted equipment. Jiggle the card as you withdraw it from the slot; the movement might shake loose a card skimmer. As you enter your PIN, cover the keypad with your other hand. If you're having trouble using an ATM, don't accept help from strangers. Check your bank statements regularly for suspicious activity. If the access door to a lobby ATM is broken, don't use the ATM, go somewhere else.

If there is more than one ATM, and a sign has been placed on one of the units saying it is out of service, go somewhere else ­ the sign could be an attempt to direct traffic to the machine where skimming equipment is installed.

MCCLA TCHY -TRIBUN E

Source: Identitytheft911, Wells Fargo Bank, Los Altos (Calif.) Police Department

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