On the Watch for ATM Skimmers
ATM skimming is a type of con that uses the technology you use at ATMs or gas pumps to steal your money. How it works is simple: thieves install an illegal card-reading device on machines that process debit cards. When a card is inserted, the device “skims” your information from the card’s magnetic strip. With the help of nearby cameras, the criminals record your pin number and create duplicates of your card.
The typical ATM skimmer is a device smaller than a deck of cards that fits over the existing card reader. Criminals do their best to make these devices look like they are part of the machine, but sometimes things are a different color or made of a different material. Some thieves use pin overlays to gather pin numbers rather than a camera, which makes using your hand to shield potential onlookers when entering your pin useless. Others will install a camera on or just above the machine in disguised little boxes. Before using an ATM, take a look at it. If something about it looks off or the keypad feels too thick, don’t use it. Wiggle the keypad and the card reader slot. A properly built ATM shouldn’t have loose parts or shift. If it does, it may have been tampered with.
Tips for Avoid Skimming Devices:
- Use ATMs in secure locations like your bank or other busy locations where it would be a risk for a criminal to tamper with an ATM. Machines at convenience stores and other less busy locations account for the majority of ATM compromises.
- Get in the habit of inspecting an ATM before you use it. Check it over for different coloration or unusual overhead equipment which might hide a camera. Wiggle things around, and if they aren’t secure, walk away. Also be on the lookout for flashing or steady lights at the card slot of newer machines. If it’s obscured, suspect tampering.
- Cover your PIN number pad with your hand. This might not always protect you, but it will stop skimmers using cameras from getting your PIN number.
- Always keep an eye on your accounts. Make a habit of once a week to check on transactions to make sure that nothing strange is popping up.
If you find fraudulent transactions, alert your financial institution at once. As long as you report the theft to your card issuer or bank as soon as possible, you will not be held liable for them, and your money will be returned. Vigilance and knowledge are the keys to protecting yourself. Remember, if you suspect a machine has been tampered with, report it at once.