With the holiday season now in full swing, households will be spending more time and money shopping for those special gifts, as well as purchasing ingredients for those sumptuous meals to be served at gatherings of family and friends.
Anyone who happened to visit their local supermarket in the last few days has encountered a flood of Thanksgiving shoppers retrieving those last-minute necessities.
In an effort to save precious minutes – and not stand in long register lines – you might decide to take the self-checkout route.
It’s become a more common option with the use of “chipped” credit cards that simplify and expedite the transaction.
That trend has not only caught on with consumers, but also with crooks looking to steal your card number and personal information.
A rash of recent incidents in Massachusetts and New Hampshire underscore how thieves can prey on unsuspecting shoppers.
Police uncovered credit card skimmers installed in a Market Basket and Walmart in Concord, N.H., a troubling development that may be linked to skimmers found in other Massachusetts and New Hampshire communities.
“Be vigilant, especially now going into the holiday season,” Concord Police Deputy Chief John Thomas told the Boston Herald, adding that ’tis the season when police generally see an uptick in credit-card information theft.
Those two credit card skimmers, which Concord Police found in October in self-checkout lanes, are devices that overlay and look nearly identical to the legitimate credit card machines found in stores, as well as at gas pumps, ATMs and other self-serve locations.
“At this time, we are not aware of any customer information being compromised and we will continue to monitor this situation closely,” Justine Griffin, a spokeswoman for Tewksbury-based Market Basket, wrote last week in a statement. “We are also working with both state and local authorities to help identify the responsible individuals.”
A Walmart corporate spokesman told the Herald that “this situation remains an ongoing criminal investigation, and we’re actively engaged with law enforcement.”
“Providing customers with a safe shopping experience is a top priority. We’re continually reviewing protocols and adding enhanced security measures to better protect in-store transactions,” Joe Pennington, the director of Walmart’s global communications office, wrote in a statement, adding that any customers concerned that they may have been impacted should call their card provider or Walmart’s customer care team at 800-925-6278.
According to Concord Police, a telltale sign with these two skimmers – a trick also probably used in other locations that could tip off customers – is if the card chip reader slot is inoperable, forcing the purchaser to swipe the card through the magnetic reader, where the theft of credit card information happens.
“It’s very easy to install them; they just snap over the old credit card machines,” Deputy Chief Thomas told the Herald, adding that if a customer has any suspicions about a malfunctioning machine, give it a little tug on the top to see if a skimmer has been placed. “You can see how easy it is to steal some of this information.”
Thomas said that his department has been in contact with other police departments, including Nashua, N.H., Somerville, Reading, and Haverhill – all places where the scam devices have also recently appeared – to see if they’re part of the same skimming operation.
While Thomas noted his department has received reports of credit card fraud since these incidents were reported, he said it’s hard to determine whether they were compromised at those two stores or elsewhere.
And skimming off the top of a credit card reader isn’t the only underhanded method of stealing financial and personal information.
The federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency also warns of high-tech skimmers that can read the chips in cards, combined with the placement of a camera to read pin numbers. The office recommends walking away and speaking with a bank representative or a law enforcement officer if you suspect something’s amiss, and to check for places where a camera could be concealed, or for plastic sheaths inserted into the card slot.
The Federal Trade Commission reports that fraud overall continues to increase, totaling $8.8 billion alone in 2022, a 30% year-over-year increase.
Being a victim of credit card fraud isn’t as onerous as it used to be. Most major card companies monitor transactions for any unusual activity, and promptly alert the cardholder.
However, it’s still an inconvenience, oftentimes requiring closing an account and opening another.
If you can still find a store with a cash-allowed, self-checkout machine, you might want to take those few extra steps and use it.
Otherwise, try to use self-checkouts that are constantly monitored by a store employee.
Bottom line, it’s the consumer’s responsibility to be aware that the possibility of fraud exists, which means taking preventative steps to minimize that threat.