If you use a debit card to make purchases or to withdraw cash from an ATM, you should be aware of a new method that criminals are using to steal your PIN.
It's well known to use care when you punch in your PIN on a card reader keypad at a store so others can't easily see your PIN. This can be done by blocking the view of the keypad with your hand or body. If criminals use this new method, you'll have to do more than just block the view of the keypad.
This new method involves an iPhone attachment that turns the iPhone into an infrared camera. By using this attachment, a criminal can take an infrared picture of the keypad right after you’ve used it. The heat of your fingers transfers to the keys of the keypad, and stays on the keypad for a short period of time. This allows an infrared picture to show the criminal which keys were pressed. It’s also possible to see the order of when the keys were pressed. The first keys pressed will show less heat since more time has elapsed.
One way to make it harder for a criminal to steal your PIN is to lightly press several keys on the keypad. The keys shouldn’t be pressed hard enough to enter a number. You just want to leave some of your body heat on the keys not associated with your PIN. If you do this and an infrared picture is taken, it will be very difficult for the criminal to know which keys were actually pressed for the PIN.
Below is a video showing the infrared iPhone attachment and how it can be inconspicuously used to steal a PIN at a store. It also shows how you can hide your keystrokes.
Of course it takes more than a PIN to access your bank account. The thief will also need your debit card or a copy of the magnetic strip of your card. This is often done through the use of skimmers. These are devices that criminals secretly install on ATMs, on gas pumps or on card readers in stores. This article has more details on skimmers and tips on how to avoid being a victim of skimmers. We also have some tips about how to be safe at ATMs.
This is another reason to use credit cards instead of debit cards. Most credit cards don't have PINs, and if your credit card is stolen, you don't have to worry about money being removed from your checking account. In addition, credit cards generally have more consumer protections. Finally, you can always make purchases with your debit card using the signature option instead of the PIN option. This can prevent your PIN from being stolen, but it's still not as safe as a credit card.