How to avoid getting your card skimmed

How to avoid getting your card skimmed
Written by Sarah Banks
Published on 23rd November 2023
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Card skimming – the dangers of contactless payment

If you haven’t already used contactless payment, by now you’ve probably seen someone paying with their phone, smartwatch or contactless card at the tills. Contactless payments are revolutionising the way purchases are made, making shopping quicker and easier. However, as with any technological leap forward, there are plenty of horror stories about what happens when things go wrong. There’s been a brand new wave of card skimming, where thieves use hi-tech gadgets to charge or clone your card.

In May, the BBC reported that contactless payment fraud has reached a whopping £7million per year. This method of payment has made life simpler, but it’s also made it "too easy" for criminals to profit from the lack of security on contactless cards.

What is contactless card skimming?

In simple terms, contactless card skimming is pickpocketing for the digital age. Fraudsters use wireless point of sale (POS) machines, enter a payment amount, brush up against the pocket where victims keep their purse or wallet, and the payment goes through. Not only this, but according to The Guardian, these devices (which are available to buy online) can read and collect the data that is meant to be masked, to later use for purchases online that have no upper limit.

Public transport is a particular cash cow as travellers tend to keep their cards ready in their pocket as they travel between underground stations or hop on and off buses. With so many bodies packed into close quarters, these fraudsters are able to reap relatively high rewards as they travel through the carriages.

These initial low-level transactions can often go undetected, unless you regularly comb through your statements, which leaves your account open and vulnerable should the fraudster want to go on a shopping spree at a later date.

How can I protect myself?

If you are a regular London underground user, or are worried about falling prey to this type of scam, there are a couple of things you can do to keep your bank accounts safe.

Get yourself an RFID-proof wallet: There are a number of companies out there that have released wallets with RFID protection that makes your card unreadable. Nodus offer a stylish range, helpful for commuters, where the card can only be read on one side. You can tap in and out of stations with ease, and then pop it back into your pocket with the safe side facing outwards.

Apple Pay is available with cards from most major banks and building societies and Android Pay is playing catch-up for now. With Metro Bank the latest to sign up in mid May, both systems allow you to access your account from most major banks and providers.

Check out the latest list of banks which support both Apple Pay and Android Pay:

  • Bank of Scotland
  • First Direct
  • Halifax
  • HSBC
  • Lloyds Bank
  • M&S Bank
  • MBNA
  • Nationwide
  • Metro Bank
  • NatWest
  • Santander
  • TSB
  • Royal Bank of Scotland
  • Ulster Bank

What can I do if I get skimmed?

As with all types of fraud, it pays to stay aware of your finances. Regularly check your account statements and check anything that seems out of place, directly with your bank. Even if it’s only a small amount, the criminals will still have your details and could make much larger purchases in the future.

They will have teams that conduct an investigation and you’ll be able to receive a refund on the fraudulent amount, as well as changing your details to prevent further amounts being debited.

In terms of financial security it may seem that contactless cards are a step back from chip and PIN, but as this payment method becomes more familiar, the banks’ abilities to protect their customers and their details will improve.

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Sarah Banks
Written by
Sarah Banks
Finance writer at Choose Wisely

Sarah joined Choose Wisely in July 2017, whilst still studying for her degree. Learning the ropes across different departments in the business including Customer Service Advisor for a period of time- making her the company’s closest link to their consumers experience with their finances.