The U.S. Secret Service estimates identity thieves scoop up billions of dollars per year through "skimming," where they place tiny devices on credit card slots and pin pads to capture your account information. It can happen at ATM machines, gas stations, even inside stores. Here's advice from the experts to protect yourself:
1. If an ATM machine doesn't look right to you, you can literally tug on the card slot to see if it's lose. Crooks often install their skimming devices right over the real one, and many consumers have had them come off right in their hands.
2. Cover your hand while entering your PIN number, so that if criminals have installed a surveillance camera, they won't be able to see your secret code.
3. Experts suggest "re-pinning" your credit and debit cards every six months. You just go to your bank and swipe your card through a little gizmo and choose a new PIN.
4. When it's time for a new credit or debit card, you can ask for a fresh card number. This will stop the cycle of theft, if your old card has already been compromised.
5. Thieves often install skimmers inside gas pump credit card slots. To thwart them, pay inside or pay cash.
6. And finally, consider using a credit card rather than a debit card, so that if crooks DO access your account, they are stealing the bank's money not your own money. That way, you won't be out your own funds while the bank investigates.