You need to keep your wits about you this January - because it's a key time for a horrible type of fraud that has already hit one in four people. The fraud in question is card cloning (or skimming), and there are five steps you must take if you are to avoid becoming a victim.
Card cloning is where someone makes a copy of your card. Most commonly this is done in an ATM, although it can also take place in a shop, or restaurant - or when you enter your card details online. The criminals copy your card data, and will get hold of your PIN at the same time - often simply by looking, or by fitting a camera to a doctored ATM.
Your card seems safe enough, tucked into your wallet, but a copy is out there, spending your money and running up debts in your name.
A survey by Vouchercodespro.co.uk found that 24% of respondents had been a victim of cloning, and three quarters knew someone who had. The researchers went on to ask when the cloning had taken place - and discovered that in a fifth of cases, people had fallen victim to criminals in January. This made it by far the most common time for an attack - followed by December, July, November and March.
1. Pay attention at the ATM
Cloning devices are most likely to be fitted to an ATM - along with a camera to pick up your PIN. In an ideal world we'd all have time to pick up our cash over the counter to protect ourselves, but in reality the best we can do is to check for anything unusual at the ATM.
2. Protect your PIN
In the age of chip and PIN, cloning your card is only half the battle, because they need your PIN too. By far the most common way of getting hold of these in the real world is simply by looking when you type your PIN into a keypad. It means that any time you key in the numbers, you need to have your wits about you. Check no-one is watching closely, and make sure you cover the keypad with your other hand to be on the safe side.
3. Watch sales assistants
This is easier said than done, because they can conceal cloning devices in the till itself or in their pocket. However, criminals are likely to select the most vulnerable-looking customers, so if you look alert, and keep your eye on them, they're likely to think cloning your card is more trouble than it's worth.
4. Be wary of entering payment details online
You should only conduct transactions online with those you know and trust. If it is an organisation you have not dealt with before, you can consider using Paypal, which will give you an added layer of protection from anyone using a rogue site to steal your card details.
5. Check your statements
Even when you take all these precautions, there's a chance someone will get hold of your card details - even if it's a dishonest employee at a highly reputable retailer. In by far the majority of cases, victims have no idea that their card has been cloned until people start spending money on it. If you have online statements, it's worth checking them once a week, to make sure you recognise everything on the statement and be certain that you are the only person using your card.
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