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Senior Staff Writer

Credit card terminal goes from safe to compromised in less than three seconds

Mar 14, 20163 mins
Data and Information SecuritySecurity

This is how easy some skimmers are to install

stopwatch seconds
Credit: Thinkstock

In a video released by Miami Beach Police, two men work as a team to install a credit card skimmer at a local gas station.

In less than three seconds, the terminal goes from safe to fully compromised.

Distracted by one customer, the store clerk starts a conversation with a friendly gentleman who is asking for assistance, happy to wait his turn.

Keeping a friendly tone, the man doing most of the talking is there to keep the attention off his companion – who is clearly aware that he’s on camera.

Keeping his head low, and his face covered by a hat, the man waits until his friend has the clerk get something further down the counter and makes his move.

Did you see it? In less than three seconds, that payment card terminal has been compromised. He’s attached a skimmer.

Now, whenever someone uses that terminal, their credit card details will be recorded and stored. Later, the two men will return and simply collect the skimmer (along with the stored data) or they’ll use a Bluetooth device to transfer the collected information without ever bothering to touch it.

With the recorded data, they can clone a victim’s card, or use the information to make purchases online. Typically, the value of the card is cashed out, meaning the criminal will use it once or twice to purchase items that can be resold quickly for actual cash value, such as gift cards or smaller consumer items.

If your credit card is ever compromised by a device such as this, contact your bank the moment you notice fraudulent purchases. As a consumer, your liability is at most $50.00 USD, but most banks won’t even charge that. The trick is to report it the moment you spot something suspicious on your account.

Scams such as this are one of the reasons merchants are supposed to move to EMV terminals. Those are the terminals where you have to insert your card and enter a PIN rather than swipe.

The deadline for the move to EMV was October 1, 2015, but not all merchants have the new system in place.

While the terminals supporting EMV are available in most cases, some retailers haven’t enabled that function, so customers are still allowed to swipe their cards. These are the locations where skimmers such as the one in the video get the most traction.

EMV cards will look like the one below. If your bank or credit card company hasn’t issued you one yet, you should call them and inquire as to why.

chip and pin credit card