Sweetwater County Sheriff's Office

Sweetwater County Sheriff Mike Lowell is warning people about card skimmer ripoffs.

The sheriff says card skimmers are small devices--actually tiny computers--concealed by criminals inside payment slots where people often use their credit or debit cards. Some common locations for the skimmers include gas stations, ATM machines, and payment locations at stores, among many others.

The skimmer reads your card number, which can be used later for online purchases or to create counterfeit credit or debit cards. Sometimes the skimmers sore the information for the thieves, who return later. But other skimmers are so sophisticated that they transmit the information to the thieves so that they don't have to risk returning to the scene of the crime.

Sheriff Lowell offered some tips for people to protect themselves against skimmers:

● At a gas pump, closely examine the card reader itself. If it looks different than the card readers at other pumps, be very suspicious.

● Try to wiggle the card reader before putting your card in. If it moves, report it to the store and use another pump.

● If you use a debit card at a gas pump, consider running it as a credit card instead. That way you avoid entering your PIN. (Using this approach, your PIN is safe and the money isn’t immediately deducted from your bank account. Criminals sometimes install tiny pinhole cameras in the keypad area to record PIN entries.)

● Don't accept "help" from strangers standing conveniently nearby. If you get an offer of help from someone at an ATM, refuse the offer and leave. (The most common line thieves use is that they, too, were having trouble with the machine and you need only enter your PIN again to solve the problem.)

● If your credit or debit card has been compromised, report it immediately to your bank or the institution that issued it. While federal law limits your degree of liability if your credit or debit card is stolen, your liability may rely directly on how swiftly you reported the theft.

Sweetwater County Sheriff's Office