Just when it’s time for happy hour, you get news like this. Greg Bluestein wrote in a July 6 article on Yahoo News that when you hand over your credit card to the waiter at a restaurant, you might be victimized in a “skimming” scam where the waiter secretly records your card information and then sells it. Whoa, what?
Skimmers are small gadgets, about the size of a deck of cards or even smaller, which record sensitive information from the magnetic stripe of a credit card when swiped. Later, all the information can be stored in a computer. What’s more, you can buy a skimmer on the Internet. Dishonest employees have used skimmers at countless establishments, including Sam’s Club, gas stations and restaurants. Some people have even been scammed at ATM machines, where the thief has placed a skimmer over the original card slot.
According to Bluestein’s article, “Some studies suggest as much as 70 percent of all cases of credit card skimming stem from restaurant scams.” So while you shouldn’t stop going out to eat, you wouldn’t be paranoid to worry about using your credit card. Should you start growing your own groceries in your back yard, hermitically seal yourself off in a cave, never to dine at Olive Garden again? No, because you can do something about it and also because it’s hard to grow your own Cheez-Its. First off, know that capitalism is on your side this time around: Verifone and Hypercom, two companies that sell pay-at-the-table systems, are making strides in safeguarding America’s restaurant industry. These devices read the pattern of dots on your credit card’s magnetic strip and allow you to hold on to your card the whole time. They are already fairly widespread in Europe and Asia. Stateside, we can check out our own groceries at the supermarket and our carts at Target, so it’s just a matter of time before these devices catch on here. Also, do the things you’re supposed to do anyway. Keep a close watch on your credit and debit accounts, and be sure to shred old receipts and bills that may have your number on them.
Keep your wits about you, and don’t let anyone leave a bad taste in your mouth!