Avoid ATMs on weekends, choose your gas pump wisely and other tips to keep your finances safe when traveling


Washington Post, April 3, 2018

These days, with all of our card options, not to mention Venmo and PayPal and Zelle, you do not need to carry huge amounts of cash — or any — when traveling. That does not necessarily mean your finances are safer. “Skimmers” can grab your financial data when you swipe your card, and you may not know anything about it until you literally pay the price.

And skimming is on the rise. Last year, analytics firm FICO found, there was a 10 percent increase in the United States in payment cards that were compromised at ATMs and merchant card readers — following a 70 percent rise in 2016. Between 2014 and 2015, FICO reported a 546 percent increase in ATMs that were compromised by criminals.

While the trained eye may be able to detect some skimmers (they can be attached to a cash machine or reader and may move if you wiggle them) others are all but invisible, consisting of a wafer-thin reader that fits inside the actual card slot. Skimmers can be placed anywhere you would swipe or insert a credit card: video-rental machines, ATMs, grocery-store checkouts, postage-stamp dispensers. The list goes on.

Brian Krebs, who is an investigative journalist (formerly with The Washington Post) and author of the site KrebsonSecurity, which reports on cybercrime and Internet security, said that the thieves, who are often involved in organized crime and gangs, are growing bolder.

“This is all part of an arms race. It never ends,” he said. “The good guys try to put up roadblocks, the bad guys try to get over, around or under them. It keeps getting more sophisticated.”

There are a few simple things people can do on the road (and at home) to minimize the risk of being scammed. Krebs shared what he has learned.

Be selective in how you pay: “I don’t use debit cards,” Krebs said. That card is a pot of gold for thieves because they can get immediate cash. While banks protect from fraud, the institution might not catch the transaction or transactions immediately. If your account is emptied, checks could bounce, and cash may be unavailable as the bank investigates. Krebs recommends sticking with credit cards or using a mobile payment app with your phone. “The merchant never sees your credit-card number,” Krebs said.

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