How Waiters Skim Your Card

Card skimming is a bigger problem in South Africa than most people think, with debit and credit card users scammed out of their hard-earned money thanks to advanced software and hardware criminals use.

Waiters and bars staff at restaurants are often the ones behind card fraud, and in most cases are recruited by the criminal syndicate. They supply them with the means to steal a customers’ money and reward them with a “cut.”

Next time you go to a bar or restaurant, be on the lookout for this:

Thermal Technology and Shoulder Surfing.

The first thing and probably the most important is to make sure the keypad on any point-of-sale device is covered. Should it not be, enter your PIN in such a way that no one sees your PIN.


Bar staff or waiters may “shoulder surf’ their victims, watching them enter their PIN.

They can also use a smartphone with a thermal imaging attachment, which will show the buttons you pressed. Because you leave behind heat on anything you touch, the heat can be picked up on the thermal device. Then use the thermal image to see the order your PIN was entered.

There is a time lapse between the first and last button pressed, this points them to the buttons and order of the PIN. To avoid this, cover all the buttons with your fingers for 3 seconds after entering your PIN. This will hide your PIN as the entire keypad will be covered in heat, thus making it impossible to see the PIN you entered.

Your card is usually stolen or cloned during the transaction, sometimes even later in time but it all comes down to a combination of these things.

Cleaning or Dropping Your Card.

Be on the lookout for a waiter that drops your card, leaves the table with your card or states that your card needs to be cleaned.

A simple card skimmer can be hidden under a waiter’s apron, be around his ankle or under a cloth in his/her hand. They just need to swipe your card to store all the information on it.

A waiter may accidentally “drop” your card at the table, and swipe it on a device attached to their ankle. Or try to “clean” your card’s strip by wiping it on the inside of their apron or cloth, thus skimming the card at the same time.

This everyone should know already, never let anyone leave the table with your card to “fetch a new card machine,” because now they have as much time as they want to clone your card by skimming it.

These tricks are used in combination with shoulder surfing.

The Card Machine Is Broken.

“This card machine is not working so I am just going to get another one quickly.” When you hear this line, be on your guard. Waiters may be using a point-of-sale device with card cloning software on it to clone your card.

You swipe your card and enter your PIN just as you would, but in this situation, the card machine copies your card and captures your PIN, then stores all this information.

Once the waiter shows up at your table to swipe your card, ask whether this machine is working. Should something seem out of order or out of place, rather say that you’ll pay the bill at the desk.

Using Fake point-of-sale Devices.

Skimming devices are often real point-of-sale devices with small noticeable differences.


If you cannot insert your card with your thumb fully remaining on the card, do not enter your PIN.

The pictures below will show you how to spot a card skimming device.


Everything on a valid Point-of-sale machine it small.

Not on card skimmers as you can see in the image above.



Blurred keys are also a sign of the device being a card skimmer.



  • Should you suspect a card machine is fake or suspicious, demand to inspect it or call the manager to verify that it is legitimate.
  • Never let your credit or debit card out of sight.
  • Cover the keypad when you enter your PIN.
  • Inspect any and all slips from point-of-sale devices, even when it shows failed.
  • Sign up for SMS notification and regularly check your bank balance.
  • Make it a habit to check your card after every transaction and make sure it’s your card.
  • Touch other keys on the keypad to make sure that your PIN won’t be discovered using thermal.
  • Use cash when you feel uncertain about point-of-sale devices.

Learn more about ATM scams or the top 10 scams in South Africa.

Share Your Thoughts About How Waiters Skim Your Card using Facebook

Rate How Waiters Skim Your Card

Rate How Waiters Skim Your Card