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Consumer credit data may be tarnished by 'skimmers'

Jun 03, 2014 Dave King

Between landlords conducting background checks and loan-approving banks, there are numerous organizations that pay attention to consumer credit data. Unfortunately, even individuals who pay their bills on time and keep their finances under control are at risk for having such information corrupted. Cybercriminals have devised ways to steal credit or debit card intelligence and use it to their advantage, which may skew a person's monetary background.

Skimming is the next big thing


Brian Krebs recently posted a blog on his website, Krebs on Security, which detailed a way reprobates are harvesting card information at kiosks and ATM machines. Recently, a number of United States Postal Service customers fell victim to skimming, a tactic that involves the employment a device used to steal the data stored on the magnetic stripe on the back of debit or credit cards, as well as a PIN pad overlay to record people as they type their PIN numbers. Banking sources informed Krebs that criminals take the stolen intelligence and manufacture new cards to make cash withdrawals at ATM machines. Some of these endeavors cost victims as much as $800.

The United States Postal Inspection Service investigated USPS' case, discovering that people were planting skimming devices on the machines of self-service stamp vending machines at U.S. post offices in at least 13 states and the District of Columbia. In response, USPIS released an email detailing how USPS consumers can spot information-stealing mechanisms and advised postal workers to visually inspect Automated Postal Center kiosks several times a day.

"Look for any type of plastic piece that looks like it has been slid over the actual credit card reader," the USPIS advised, as quoted by Krebs. "Look for any other type of marking on the machine that looks as though it has been applied by a third party."

Microchips the answer?
In order to protect consumer and commercial credit, some card companies are implementing the same microchips used on U.S. passports that are designed to subvert fraud and counterfeiting, The Sacramento Bee reported. However, some consumers, such as seasoned traveler Susan Levitsky, are apprehensive of the practice.

"I've heard that the chip allows a thief with a scanner to walk by you and scan your cards while they're still in your purse, unless you have them in a protective case," she told the source.

This may be a valid concern for passport holders because the forms use radio frequency identification that can be picked up by certain devices. In contrast, the chips attached to credit cards contain encrypted data that's activated only when the plastic is inserted into a designated "smartcard" reader, which can be found at a store or restaurant. Fortunately, remotely picking up the information in these chips by walking past a person is impossible. The concerns of passport owners should also be allayed, as some travel security experts have claimed that exploiting an RFID transmission is measure that isn't typically favored by criminals.

These chips may be the answer to skimming, as they disallow criminals from obtaining card information from kiosks.