BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Without you even realizing it, your bank account information could be transmitted to thieves with the simple swipe of your debit or credit card.
According to Bill Hardekopf, CEO of LowCards.com, card skimming is now a sophisticated crime that can happen anywhere and it's becoming more prevalent.
The method is simple: unsuspecting consumers swipe their card through a card reader sleeve in which a skimmer machine has been installed. A tiny, nearby camera records the consumer's PIN numbers, giving thieves all they need to quickly drain the money from your bank account.
Experts say there are usually no signs that your card was skimmed.
They also say a skimmer can look like part of the ATM and be very hard to see. The camera can be smaller than an eraser head and also look like part of the machine.
Skimming devices and software are sold on the web. In addition, the stolen account numbers can be sold to online shoppers.
There are some steps you can take to protect against skimmers:
* Before swiping your debit card, give a small tug on the card swiper. If there is any movement or the device comes off, don't use that ATM--it could be a sign that a thief has inserted a skimmer.
* You may be able to keep the thief from seeing your PIN number by covering the keyboard with your free hand and blocking the view of a camera.
* Check your account statement regularly for suspicious charges or withdrawals.
* If you think your card has been part of a skimming scam, contact your financial institution immediately.
Chip-and-pin technology could provide better protection against skimmers. These cards use microchip and PIN numbers instead of the magnetic stripe. The embedded chips are encrypted to prevent skimmers from accessing card information. However, adoption of these cards has been slow in the United States because it requires a new ATM system and a large investment to install suitable terminals.