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One Step Ahead: Almanac Security Tips - 2014

In each issue, Penn's Journal of Record, The Almanac publishes helpful tips and hints for dealing with information security and privacy matters. This page is a collection of all those published thus far.
New! You can now receive new One-Step-Ahead Security and Privacy Tips automatically!
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Table of Contents (view all)

Security and Privacy Tips for World Travelers
Filing Taxes Online This Year? Take Steps to Protect Your Information!
If your computer runs Windows XP, you must update it now!
Why Should You Report Security Incidents? And How Do You Report One?
Photo and Video Privacy Issues
The Password is Dead, Long Live the Password!
Data Privacy Month: NSA Surveillance Panel at the National Constitution Center
Protecting Your Finances During This Year’s Holiday Shopping Season
Beware of Phishing E-mails in the Wake of Typhoon Haiyan
No E-mail from Penn Will Ask For Your Username/Password or SSN
The Children's Online Privacy Protection Act: Does It Apply to Your Website?
October: National Cyber Security Awareness Month; Free Secure Disposal of Paper and Electronics
What Basic Rules Protect Student Information at Penn? (September 2013)
Protecting Privacy and Security on Penn + Box
Security Starts With You


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Tagged with identity theft , credit card theft , security

Tuesday, January 20, 2009 - Almanac Vol. 55, No. 18

Credit Card Theft: "Skimming"

Over the last couple of years there have been several reports in the media about "skimmers" found attached to ATM machines and credit-pay gas pumps in the Philadelphia region, notably at several Wawa convenience stores. Skimmers are small electronic devices which read, store and, in some cases, transmit the digital information from the magnetic stripe of any credit or debit card passed through it: name, account number, expiration date, etc. Skimming has become a major factor in the growth of credit card and identity theft over the last decade, and it's certainly not limited to convenience stores. Any commercial or financial business where credit card readers are present is a potential target for skimming, including restaurants. In 1999, two waiters in a New York City restaurant were convicted of skimming more than $300,000 from diners.

This highlights the fact that “skimming” is often an inside job carried out by one or more employees of the business, either on their own or in collaboration with outsiders. The devices used can range from 'snapover" readers that fit on top of the legitimate reader to small pocket-sized devices that can be easily concealed and used by crooked waiters, clerks, etc. A similar device called a "card trap" installed on an ATM will fit over the card slot. An inserted card will not be returned, and when the frustrated customer gives up and leaves, the device is simply removed by the skimmer, who now has a valid credit card (and possibly even a PIN, if he’s been "shoulder surfing").

Detecting skimming and card trapping is very difficult, and many victims only discover it when their statements arrive. Here are a few suggestions from law enforcement experts in this field to help combat it, though:

  • Try to limit your ATM use to a few machines with which you are familiar (and better prepared to notice when something is different) and/or machines that are in more secure, controlled areas (such as bank lobbies or vestibules). Also, ATM's with security cameras are less vulnerable.
  • When paying by credit card in person, be observant of how the employee handles your card, and try not to let the card be out of your sight.
  • Many credit card companies are now issuing cards on which the information on the stripe is encrypted. Check with your card issuer to see if they currently do this, and if not, when they plan to implement it.
  • Above all, check your account statements as soon as they arrive, and report any discrepancies immediately. Law enforcement authorities cite timely reporting as the major factor in identifying and prosecuting skimmers.
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