By Candid Wueest
In previous columns we’ve discussed the different online threats Internet users face in the run up to the 2010 Soccer World Cup. These include spam e-mails offering false VIP tickets to important matches and hotel websites that unknowingly host Trojans that infect prospective guests’ PCs or steal credit card details during the online reservation process.
Worryingly, the latter often occurs offline in “real world” situations. Over the past year we have noticed an increase of so called credit card dumps being sold in the underground market. Dumps are copies of the information on the magnetic stripe on the original card usually obtained via a “skimming device”.
These are small electronic devices fitted to the credit card or teller machine. They could take the form of an additional card reader, which is placed over the original, which records anything that is passed through it. Often it is combined with a doctored keypad that is placed over the real one or a small video camera which records the PIN code that is entered for each card.
Newer versions even contain a GSM module that will send the encrypted dumps back to the attacker. Video footage from surveillance cameras has shown that scammers can install the fake keypad and card reader in under five seconds. That is fast!
If someone has these tracks then not only do they have the card number, but they can also create a clone card.
The clone cards can be made to look just as real as the official cards, including holograms and embossed gold numbers. If the scammer is also in possession of the PIN code he can use the card just like a normal card on any ATM to withdraw money.
So how can you spot them? It is not easy as the devices are highly sophisticated and usually match the look and feel of the credit card or teller machine. The best tip is to look out for any attached keypads or strange looking card slots. Often they are fixed point mounted and create a small overlap that just looks a bit odd and wiggles a bit. I know it may feel a little strange to start jiggling at the card reader of an unknown ATM, but would you rather lose money?
Don’t be fooled into thinking that this type of trickery is confined to the developed economies. While South Africa is a developing economy, it has a highly sophisticated and modern banking infrastructure and credit card fraudsters to match it.
The point is credit card skimming can happen virtually anywhere so while enjoying what South Africa has to offer over and above the World Cup, pay special attention to what happens to your bank or credit card wherever you use it. It could save you a lot of money.