It’s everyone’s worst nightmare. You come back from a wonderful holiday and get your first credit card bill. Lo and behold there are charges worth hundreds or thousands of pounds that you never made on your statement. What’s gone wrong? Chances are you’ve fallen victim to a particular type of fraud called credit card skimming.
What is credit card skimming? It’s a growing form of credit card fraud, and it goes like this. You use your credit card to make a purchase in a shop or pay for a restaurant meal, your card disappears out of sight for a moment, where it is passed through a small portable reader which copies the data off the magnetic strip on your card. One swipe is all it takes for your account number, name and other relevant details to be copied. Either this data is used to make online purchases or the thieves create a clone of your card which can then be used like any normal credit card.
The other common way that cards are skimmed is with a small dummy facing installed over an ATM machine slot (which is usually indistinguishable from the real thing) which reads your card details as you insert your card. Often this is used in conjunction with a tiny hidden camera to capture your PIN. Scary, huh?
Popular tourist destinations have attracted these fraudsters in droves, but the following 7 cities have proved to be hotbeds of credit card skimming activity.
1. New York City [United States]
Everyone loves the Big Apple, including crooks, but despite the city’s charms, falling foul of a scam might take a big bite out of your enjoyment of NYC. Its fast pace and frenetic lifestyle means it is sometimes hard to keep your eye on the ball (or your credit card) at all times. A recent scam which targeted drive-up ATM machines made off with $1.8 million – most of which was quickly wired off to Eastern Europe.
2. London [United Kingdom]
Big Ben might look out over Westminster’s fabled parliament buildings, but visitors to London need to be more aware of someone looking over their shoulder as they enter their PIN. In 2007 police found 27 card skimming machines installed on London Underground ticket machines alone.
Skimming is made slightly more challenging in the UK, compared to the USA since the introduction of ‘chip and pin’ cards, which add an additional layer of security. These have been largely adopted across Europe but America has not taken the technology on board yet.
3. Istanbul [Turkey]
Hundreds of thousands of tourists are drawn to Istanbul every year. Not only does the city straddle the Bosphorus, but Turkey straddles Europe and the Middle East. This mix of cultures and histories lures many Western tourists to venture into the souks of Istanbul where sensory overload makes them vulnerable to criminal activities.
Turkish police in coordination with the FBI recently broke one link in the criminal chain when they captured Chao, head of a group called ‘Crime Enforcers’. Chao was a master at card skimming and even produced instructional videos on how ATM skimmers could be built and installed.
4. Dubai [United Arab Emirates]
Until recently Dubai was the world’s playground – flashy, new and touted as virtually crime-free. Well, not quite. Not only has the glow faded from Dubai’s markets and tourist trade, but lately cracks are starting to show in their ‘crime free’ reputation with a recent increase in the reported activity of ATM skimming. Time will tell whether the notoriously hard-line UEA police are able to crack down on this.
5. Dublin [Ireland]
The Celtic Tiger has roared over the past decade bringing a flow of wealth and tourists to the Emerald Isle. Unfortunately, it has also brought a steady of influx of crooks and opportunists who have made Dublin a hotspot for card skimming and shoulder surfing. While the Irish are famous for their ‘gift of the gab’ and hospitality, be sure it isn’t being employed to distract you while your card is being swiped.
6. Washington, D.C. [United States]
Obama was elected on the crest of a wave of new hope for America and for a new kind of Washington. It better come soon because the current Washington stinks when it comes to card fraud. Just recently four waiters at three different restaurants within blocks of the White House were busted in a credit card skimming ring. They made off with approximately $750,000 worth of fraudulent charges. Plus 15% tip.
7. Sydney / Perth [Australia]
It isn’t all sunny ‘down under’ either. While Australia was famously founded by convicts from England, it seems to be attracting a new wave of convicts from neighbouring South East Asian nations who are heavily involved in underground credit card markets where stolen identities are traded for profit. Their preferred means of defrauding the public includes widespread use of dummy ATM card readers coupled with mini-cameras which can read PIN numbers from as far away as 100 metres, affording these criminal gangs the ability to very easily monitor transactions and steal hundreds of credit card ID’s via compromised ATMs with a laptop and a ‘flat white’ at neighboring premises.