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Mexican Skimmers Target US Tourists

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There's been an increase in ATM skimming in Mexico, thanks in large part to America's slow adoption of chip credit and debit cards.

A man was arrested in Puerto Vallarta after he was found replacing batteries in ATM skimming machines in bustling parts of the popular beach town.  The man was apprehended after fleeing the scene in a vehicle with Quintana Roo license plates.  Quintana Roo is a Mexican state on the opposite side of the country.  It is home to two other popular tourist destinations: Cancun and Cozumel.

The skimmers used by the man exploit the magnetic strip on the back of credit and debit cards, which are not as secure as chip-and-PIN cards.  It should be noted that Mexico uses chip cards, as does most of Europe.  The US, however, has been slow to switch from magnetic strip cards to computer chip cards.  Since places like Puerto Vallarta and Cancun are popular destinations for international travelers, especially those from the United States, American credit cards are thought to be the main target of this spike in ATM skimming activity.

This is a case where American resistance to change is hurting herd immunity and providing more victims of the fraud.  Since many ATMs are not compatible with chip cards yet, many credit cards issued by European banks include a magnetic strip in case they need to be used on older ATMs.  Magnetic strips leave credit card information readable in plain text to ATM skimmers.  As a result, not only are American tourists potential victims, but so is everyone else.

As of this coming October, merchants in the US will be liable for credit card information stolen from credit cards if they have not switched to the more secure chip readers.  ATMs in the US, however, aren't required to make the change for two more years.

In the meantime, since most ATM skimmers use tiny pinhole cameras to capture your PIN, a lot of the theft can be thwarted by simply putting your hand over the keypad when putting in your PIN.