5 steps to avoid identity theft at the register

Protecting identity starts with being alert at point of sale.

By Amy Buttell Crane

Merchants and their customers are more likely to be victimized by payment card fraud committed by an employee than a criminal or scamster outside the business. Here are some steps you can take to make sure that you aren’t victimized by credit card fraud when using your card in person at a retailer rather than online:

1. Pay at the register. If you have a choice between paying at the register and handing your card to a waiter, pay at the register. That way, you’re less likely to be subject to skimming, a scam whereby an employee takes an unauthorized scan of your card. If you must hand your card over to a waiter or salesperson, keep the card in your sight at all times.

2. Get your card back quickly.  The shorter the time that your card is away from you, the less chance there is of a fraud. So, if you open a tab at a bar, make sure you get your card back. Don’t let the bartender hold it at the cash register. If your card sits on the bar or at the register, it might get skimmed, or an employee or other person could take a quick picture of it with a cell phone camera, says Suzanne Miller, senior partner of the compliance and audit group at Turbo PCI.

3. Look for security cameras.  PCI data security standards require merchants who process credit cards in person to have security cameras trained on card processing areas, notes Miller. Unfortunately, many don’t, which means the retailer, restaurant or other merchant is more likely to be subject to internal credit card fraud by employees. If employees know that security cameras are monitoring them, they are less likely to try to commit fraud.

4. Beware of tip fraud. When you add a servicer tip onto your credit or debit card charge, you risk tip fraud, a scam whereby a service employee alters the tip amount when entering the final bill at the cash register or point-of-sale system. Most consumers, even those who actually go over their credit card or debit card charges with a fine tooth comb, won’t notice an extra 75 cents or dollar tip. You can avoid this scam by leaving a tip in cash.

5. Check for skimming at ATM and PIN entry terminals. If an ATM or PIN entry device looks odd or different, don’t use it. Skimmers frequently attach devices to ATMs or PIN entry devices — especially those that aren’t monitored by merchants — to steal card data encoded on magnetic stripes.