Skimming is a form of payment card fraud in which fraudsters manipulate a card-reading terminal in order to steal your payment card information.
Criminals then attempt to use the stolen PIN code and magnetic stripe data to plunder your bank account or to make purchases using your credit card account. While actual attempts at accessing your account are usually made from outside of Switzerland, the theft of your data can happen in Switzerland as well as abroad.
Technological advances like chip card technology and geoblocking (location-based restrictions) have helped to reduce card skimming in Switzerland in recent years. However, as recently as 2013, skimmers were still able to help themselves to around 5 million francs.
Thanks to chip technology, cloning debit cards and using them to withdraw money from banks or PostFinance has become far more difficult. However, there are still countries in North and South America, Asia and Africa in which cloned magnetic stripes can be used to access your accounts.
Because most fraudulent activity occurs outside of Switzerland, many Swiss banks have implemented geoblocking to prevent transactions from being made from countries other than those specified by the cardholder. In some cases, card transactions from blocked countries are only subject to a lower limit for purchases or withdrawals, saving you trouble if you do travel to those countries from time to time.
9 helpful tips to protect yourself from skimming
- Memorize your PIN code, keep it to yourself and protect it. Never share your code with another person.
- Never store your PIN code anywhere near your bankcard or credit card. Ideally, avoid putting your PIN down in writing or storing it on your phone.
- Inspect ATMs before each use. Keep your eyes peeled for peculiarities in the card slot or hidden cameras in the vicinity (these are used to capture your PIN entry). Check the keypad for sluggishness or stickiness when you press on the keys. Skimmers often use under-keypad devices to record your code as you punch it in. If anything about an ATM seems odd, do not even insert your card into the slot. Ideally, try to contact the ATM operator and report your suspicions.
- Make a habit of shielding the keypad with your free hand as you enter your PIN code. Although this will not help if the keypad has been tampered with, it can protect you from the common hidden-camera method.
- Never let yourself be distracted by strangers while using an ATM. Do not let yourself be put under time pressure by other people who appear to be waiting to use the ATM, and do not accept help from strangers if things go wrong (when your card is not returned, for example). Card jamming is a popular skimming trick, and the “Good Samaritan” may just be the would-be fraudster. Contact the ATM operator instead.
- ATMs located inside of a bank are generally more secure than ATMs outside of a bank. Whenever possible, use an ATM located inside of a bank.
- New smart cards with no magnetic stripe are generally more secure. Only a handful of chip-card skimming attempts have been uncovered so far, and in Switzerland, no skimming attempts on V-Pay cards from Visa (which are chip-only) have been reported to date.
- Always freeze your account as soon as you suspect that your card information has been stolen. Contact your bank or credit card issuer to report fraudulent activity as soon as possible. If your bank or issuer does not have a 24/7 helpline, contact the police (phone number: 117) to report the suspicious ATM or payment terminal.
- Review your bank account statements on a regular basis. If you notice any transactions which you do not recognize, contact the bank immediately. As long as you exercise due diligence with your card and PIN number, your Swiss bank will reimburse you for losses caused by fraudulent transactions reported within 30 days.
A moneyland.ch guide.