What is Swiping Scamming?

Article Summary:

Card swiping scamming, also known as card skimming, is a common way that thieves steal your card information. This occurs when you swipe your debit card or credit card through a skimming device and it captures your card’s information. These are typically attached to a legitimate card reader at an ATM, gas station, or point-of-sale terminal. If you believe that your card information has been stolen, contact your card issuer to cancel your card and get a new one.

Debit card and credit card swiping scams can affect anyone who uses their cards at places like gas stations, ATMs, retail stores, and restaurants. Thieves install card skimming devices on card readers that collect your card number and steal your information. According to the FBI, skimming costs financial institutions and consumers more than $1 billion each year.

Although most credit cards come with fraud liability protection, debit cards typically do not, which makes them riskier to use. By staying aware of the threat and taking precautions when swiping your card at higher-risk locations, you can help reduce your chances of becoming a scam victim and having your information stolen.

What is swiping scamming?

Swiping scamming, also known as skimming, occurs when devices that are illegally installed on ATMs, point-of-sale terminals, or gas pumps capture data or otherwise record the information from a debit card or credit card. Thieves then use this information to steal from victims’ bank accounts, create fraudulent cards in their name, or sell their information.

While skimming is most common at ATMs, fuel pumps, and point-of-sale terminals, it can happen at any card reader where you swipe your card. Skimming devices can be attached to the internal wiring of the card reading machine or fit over the real card reader. You can also find a skimming device inserted inside the slot where you swipe your card.

Pro Tip

Visually inspect card readers before using them. If anything looks out of place, report it to the cashier and use a different machine.

What are the risks of swiping?

Since your debit card is connected to your bank account, it is directly connected to money you use every day and carries a host of risks. Swiping your debit card in a skimming device can provide thieves with access to your checking account.

Identity theft

Although the emergence of chip-enabled debit cards was supposed to help with the vulnerability of identity theft, thieves can still gain access to your information when you swipe your card at a reader that has been fitted with a skimming device.

Some devices photocopy or take digital photos of your card, while more sophisticated ones can completely copy your card’s magnetic strip. This is then used to make a completely new card with your information on it.

Once thieves have your card information, they can use it to make fraudulent purchases, steal money from your bank accounts, or even sell your personal information online to other thieves on the dark web.

Credit card fraud

Credit card fraud is a form of identity theft in which scammers make fraudulent purchases or obtain cash advances through your card. Using a skimming device, they can take your card information and use it to make unauthorized purchases.

Given the number of credit card fraud reports generated each year, credit card companies are typically knowledgeable about fraud. However, whether you’re responsible for fraudulent charges largely depends on when you report the activity. (source)

Credit cardDebit card
You report your card’s loss before someone uses it…You aren’t responsible for any charges you didn’t authorize.You aren’t responsible for any transactions you didn’t authorize.
You report your card’s loss after someone uses it…The maximum you might be responsible for is $50.What you’re responsible for depends on how quickly you reported it.
Your account number is used but your card isn’t lost or stolen…You aren’t responsible for any charges you didn’t authorize.You aren’t responsible for any transactions you didn’t authorize if you reported the loss within 60 calendar days after your statement is sent to you.

What are the signs of a scammer?

It’s possible to identify scammer devices by physical appearance, though this can be difficult to do. Before using an ATM or gas pump, visually inspect the card reader and compare it to others at a neighboring device.

Gas stations

Gas stations place security tape over the cabinet panel. If the tape looks like it’s been tampered with in any way, report it to the gas station attendant and use a different pump.

You should also inspect the card reader itself. If it looks to be protruding from its holder, a card skimmer might be attached to it. You can also wiggle it around, and if it moves, you should report it to the attendant.

Pro Tip

Paying for your gas inside with the cashier will lessen your chances of using a card reader that’s been tampered with.


ATMs are installed so that they stay in place and don’t move. If any part of the ATM moves around easily, or if the buttons on the machine feel especially hard to push, it might have been tampered with by a scammer. You can also look for any scratches or damage to the machine, which may indicate someone successfully planted a skimming device.

If you spot any of these features, visit a different ATM or speak directly with a teller at your financial institution.

Where does scamming happen?

Scammers use a variety of methods and places to scam and install skimming devices. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to know when a scammer has installed a fraudulent card reader or skimming device. There are, however, a few places where scamming is more common.

Non-bank ATMs

It’s common for thieves to place skimming devices on ATMs that are not attached to or affiliated with financial institutions. For example, ATMs in convenience stores, hotel lobbies, or outdoor settings are not as well monitored as they would be at a bank, and are therefore more vulnerable to tampering.

Whenever possible, try using an ATM located at a bank, or at least one affiliated with a bank, as these will have tighter security measures in place.

Gas stations

As we mentioned above, gas stations are also places where thieves like to place card skimmers. Visually inspect the card reader before you use it. If anything seems out of place, or if the card reader jiggles or moves when you touch it, notify the attendant and use a different pump. You can also pay inside, where the card reader is less likely to have been tampered with.

Mobile vendors

Mobile vendors can pose as street vendors legitimately swiping your card for payment when actually they’re running it through a skimming device. They often use a variety of different card processing devices, which makes it difficult to know whether the merchant is legitimately processing your payment or stealing your debit card information.


Restaurants are risky because someone else is typically swiping your card for you, which means you can’t see if they are running it through a legitimate card reader or not. Thieves can recruit servers to steal customer debit card information in exchange for payment. Because of the fraud protection you can receive with your credit card, it’s better to use that instead of a debit card at a restaurant.

What should I do if I get scammed?

If you believe that your card information has been stolen, immediately contact your card issuer to cancel your card and get a replacement with a different card number. Fortunately, many banks and credit card companies have systems in place for fraud and scam-related incidents.

Regularly keep an eye on your bank account. If you spot any unusual charges or purchases, contact your financial institution so they can freeze your account. If you have an online account that you can check at any time, try to review transactions as frequently as possible.

In addition to your bank account, regularly check your credit report for any high credit balances or new accounts you don’t recognize. You can also keep track of your credit score for hard credit checks, which indicate someone is trying to open a new account or loan using your information.

Key Takeaways

  • Swiping scamming, also called skimming, occurs when you swipe your debit card or credit card through a skimming device, which can attach to a legitimate card reader at an ATM or gas station. It then captures your card’s information.
  • Scammers can steal your identity, bank account information, and personal details to make fraudulent purchases or to sell on the dark web.
  • High-risk areas to swipe your debit card include non-bank ATMs, gas stations, and restaurants. Mobile vendors can also be risky, as some use third-party card processing devices that may or may not be a skimming device.
  • To protect yourself against credit card fraud and identity theft, regularly check your bank account and credit card statements as well as your credit report.
  • If you believe that your card information has been stolen, contact your card issuer to cancel your card. They can send you a replacement card with a different card number and cancel the stolen card.
View Article Sources
  1. Lost or Stolen Credit, ATM, and Debit Cards — Federal Trade Commission
  2. Identity Theft — USA.gov
  3. Am I responsible for unauthorized charges if my credit cards are lost or stolen? — Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
  4. Lost or Stolen Wallet? 6 Things You Need To Do Immediately — SuperMoney
  5. How To Find My Debit Card Number Online — SuperMoney
  6. Where Is The Security Code On A Debit Card — SuperMoney
  7. Can You Track a Debit Card? — SuperMoney
  8. How to Open a Checking Account — SuperMoney
  9. Best Checking Accounts | May 2022 — SuperMoney