How are bank cards cloned

Imagine if you had 47 evil twins.

Evil twins who look nothing like you, speak a different language and have really terrible taste in music.

It might sound like a nightmare but it could happen… in fact maybe it’s already happened. Right now evil twin no. 26 could be on a sun lounger in Turkmenistan, sipping banana liqueurs and chair dancing to Nadia from Big Brother’s greatest hits.

Yes, that Nadia…

You may remember a few weeks ago my bankcard was cloned. It got me thinking. I mean, what if there are dozens of Tom Wake clones doing just that, living the high life at my expense?

One week they’re buying £2 sim cards from Tesco’s, next week it’ll be a knock on the door from the bailiffs:

“Hi, we’re here to inform you that Tom Wake no. 7 in Nigeria has just made a VERY generous donation to the Honourable Rev Dodgyscam. We’ll be needing your TV, your bed and that er Ikea clock to cover it.”

But but…

“Yes sir, I know it is a nice clock, but I’m afraid the money we pilfered from remortgaging your house alone doesn’t cover it. It seems Tom Wake no. 45 in the Philippines had another one of his ‘wild weekends’ on your MasterCard…”

*shudder*

Bank card cloning is big business and it keeps evolving. The criminals are getting savvier and that means we need to be on our guard.

How to stop your bank cards being cloned

According to the ATM Industry Association (just imagine their Christmas party) more than a billion dollars is pinched from fraud crimes specifically linked to ATM machines – or cashpoints.

When I found out my card was cloned I followed the paper trail and was pinpointed exactly where my details were nabbed – it was a bank machine on my high street. Just two days after making a withdrawal, a cloned version of me was skipping around London snapping up mobile phone contracts.

How did they do it?

By specially prepping an ordinary cash machine.

Sounds scary doesn’t it?

Don’t worry, it doesn’t need to be. Here are some simple steps you can take to help prevent your bank cards from getting cloned:

1. Use indoor cashpoints where possible. If you’re near a bank that has an indoor cashpoint (rather than a ‘hole in the wall’) use that instead. Outdoor machines are far more susceptible to tampering. Thieves sometimes plant cameras nearby (to pick up your pin number as you tap it in). They also try and place devices within the machine itself to copy your card information. Indoor machines are often guarded by security guards and almost always covered by CCTV – making it a much riskier venture for would be scammers.

2. Avoid freestanding cashpoints, unless it’s an emergency. By freestanding I mean ATM machines that are literally plonked in the middle of a path, rather than ‘in the wall’. While some are legitimate others are completely phoney and have been placed there by thieves. Put your card in a phoney one and they can steal both your card details AND your pin number, making them especially dangerous. There’s been a spate of very convincing looking phoney freestanding machines popping up recently.

3. Always check both the face and the slot on the cashpoint before putting your card in.Have a quick look at the machine. Does it look like someone’s been messing about with it? Is the area around the card slot frayed or unsteady looking? Give the slot a bit of a shake. If it’s flimsy or extends out too far then choose another machine. Thieves place special machines over the original card slot to steal card information. This is called ‘skimming’ and it’s how my card was cloned recently!

The device they place on the machine reads the information from the magnetic strip on your card as you put it in the slot. They also try and get your pin number by placing a tiny camera above the keypad to film you tapping it in.

4. Cover your PIN number entry with your hand. I’m sure you’re doing this already, but it can be quite tricky to do in a confined space. The first thing you want to do is block out any ‘shoulder peepers’ or cameras that may have been installed by scammers. Stand close to the machine so that as much of your body as possible is covering the screen and keypad. Use one hand to form a shield over the keypad while you use your other hand to tap in the numbers.

5. Wait until the machine is fully reset before leaving. Once we’ve got our cash and card back it’s all too easy to head off without checking the machine’s finished. Some machines (especially abroad) will ask you if you want another service or transaction. Make sure it knows you’re finished before walking away – otherwise the next person in line might be helping themselves to another transaction, from your account!

6. Use debit cards for withdrawing money and credit cards for everything else. Credit cards offer better protection on many purchases and if someone steals your credit card details it’ll only put a stop on your available balance while the bank investigates. With a debit card you’ll have to wait until the bank refunds the stolen money – leaving you temporarily out of pocket. Plastic debt = misery and pain, so only do this one if you’re paying off your credit card in full every month.

7. It’s not just cashpoints – be very careful in shops, bars and restaurants. The introduction of ‘chip and pin’ – which is where you plonk your card in a machine and enter your pin number to complete a transaction – has on the whole been a great success. However, criminals have found ways round this. Like cashpoints, chip and pin readers can be rigged with ‘skimming’ devices. Put your card in one that’s been rigged and they can clone your card.

This type of card fraud relies on crooked insiders. Thieves approach ground floor staff in shops and restaurants and pay them to rig the machines. On the plus side, this kind of skimming is less common as it relies on dishonest shop clerks or restaurateurs – and most big chains have in store cameras to stop this sort of thing happening. If a chip and pin machine looks dodgy, or like it might have been tampered with, don’t use it – and always always always cover your hand when you’re entering your pin number.

What to do if you suspect your card has been cloned

It might sound obvious, but the most important thing you can do to safeguard yourself against fraudsters is to check your account regularly. If you haven’t already got access to online banking, it’s a good idea to get that sorted so that you can regularly check transactions.

The good news is banks are getting better at spotting foul play – and they will often contact you if they see ‘suspicious’ activity on your account. However there are no guarantees and it’s a good idea to stay on top of all your accounts, just in case something slips through the net.

If you do notice anything funny going on, call your bank immediately – they should have a dedicated fraud hotline but most departments will be able to forward you to the right place if you don’t have the number handy.

They’ll take you through any recent transactions which you can say “yay” or “nay” to. Once you’ve let them know, it’s up to them to do the rest. Provided you’ve taken reasonable measures to protect your card you should get every penny back.

Banks like to try and upsell us fraud protection cover and safeguard policies. Personally I think this is a bit of a tax on nothing. The reality is that if you’ve been careful with your card i.e. you not written your PIN number down, shared it with others, left it unattended etc and if you notify your bank of any unusual activity, you should be completely covered – and it’s up to the bank to refund you the money.

There is some benefit to these policy covers, the main one being that they can release funds to you much faster if you do get stung. I don’t have this kind of cover and when my card was cloned the fraudulent payments were returned to me within just 2 days.


About the Author

Tom Wake My name's Tom Wake and I'm the editor of Insider's Edge. I bring you tips, tricks and shortcuts to help you save money, make money and save time.