What is a ghost terminal?
Used in recent reports of skimming crimes, ghost terminals are electronic devices tailored to copy a credit card’s magnetic strip and Personal Identification Number in order to steal money from an account.
How does this scheme work?
Ghost terminals are manufactured devices that appear to be real ATM touch pads or credit-card readers.
They are often placed over a legitimate ATM or other card-reading device, often in a manner that is unnoticeable to most consumers.
While ghost terminals can be used by a single thief, entire rings of thieves have been busted throughout the world for establishing these fake terminals in order to steal millions of dollars.
Ghost terminals can be hidden in plain sight at ATMs, convenience stores, restaurants, or even in taxi cabs and other “Point of Sale” (PoS) terminals.
Customers believe they are swiping their credit card to withdraw money or to pay for a service that has been purchased.
Instead, the ghost terminal is secretly storing the magnetic strip information.
Some are outfitted with small cameras that can also record your PIN number.
The ghost terminal may then either print the victim a fake receipt, leaving them none the wiser that they’ve been duped, or provide an error message that says the terminal is malfunctioning.
In that case, the fake error message often asks the victim to use another payment method – which could lead to another credit card being skimmed, or to cash being paid.
Later, thieves use the credit card account information they’ve garnered to steal money and make unauthorized purchases.
Are ghost terminals a serious threat?
Absolutely. Criminals can use ghost terminals to steal thousands of credit card numbers in a matter of minutes.
That information can then be used by the criminal or sold to others who will then drain the bank accounts of unsuspecting victims.
News reports show taxi cab drivers have been caught using skimming technology to steal from their passengers.
Restaurant employees have stolen the credit card information of guests with Point of Sale ghost terminals, and large groups of criminals have been caught in the act.
And when fraudulent transactions occur on a bank account, merchants are often left to “take the loss.”
But when that happens, they often recover their losses by raising prices on customers.
Prevent the threat by being aware of your surroundings when using an ATM or providing your credit card to pay for a service.
Always ask for a receipt, and always keep an eye on who has your credit card in their possession.
If a machine doesn’t appear legitimate, or looks as if it’s been tampered with, don’t use it and instead notify a manager or a law enforcement authority.
What do I do if I’ve been a victim?
First of all, contact your local law enforcement authority when you discover your credit card has been used without your permission.
Catching a thief will require frequent monitoring of your bills, your bank account balances, and your credit reports.
As soon as you can, reach out to your bank or credit card company to report the fraudulent transactions.
Laws often protect victims from large liabilities if they promptly report any possible fraud.