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Shimming Right Along To Skim Your Payment Card Number

Published: February 19, 2020 on our newsletter Security Fraud News & Alerts Newsletter.


By now, most of us have at least one or two EMV (Europay, MasterCard, Visa) cards. These are the payment cards that were touted as far more secure than the ones with the magnetic strips on the backs. And indeed, if you ask Visa these cards have resulted in a 75% decrease in fraud in the three years since they were introduced. Cybercriminals are of course finding ways to take advantage of the EMV cards too. Now, there are reports of a new method called “shimming,” which is the new “skimming.”



The magnetic strips on the backs of the cards are easily read by a skimmer. That’s a device that is installed on the card reader, often at ATMs that would record the strip information for the thieves. Those devices are not so difficult to spot because they are a bit “clunky” and are installed over the original reader on the machine. Well, a shimmer is much more difficult to detect. These are supposedly extremely thin…like a sheet of paper. It’s very difficult to see. However, it contains a microchip that can read the data on the EMV chip.


Don’t despair, though. It’s still harder to get the information from the chip than a magnetic strip. And a criminal still has to physically install the devices on the machines. There are ways you can keep on top of payment card fraud and they apply whether you’re still using a magnetic strip card or the EMV card:


  • If you need to get cash, go inside a bank branch or use an ATM that is secured or inside a building with cameras.

  • Most debit cards can also be used as credit. Use the credit option on machines when given the choice. While this doesn’t prevent shimming, it will provide more protection for you if your card number is used fraudulently.

  • Monitor your charges regularly. If it’s possible, do this more often than monthly. Most financial institutions make it relatively easy to check your charges these days with their websites and mobile apps.

  • Report potential fraudulent activity right away.

  • Consider setting up alerts for your cards. They can be set up to alert you any time a purchase is made using the card or if a certain amount is charged. While it might be a bit overwhelming to get an alert for every charge, putting in some alert is useful. Don’t make the amount too large though. Criminals will often make small purchases to not set off these alarms.


New technologies are indeed making it more difficult for criminals. But they aren’t giving up at all. As long as we embrace technology, our information is at risk. Keeping up with the latest threats will help you shimmy right ahead of the hackers.


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