Automated teller machines (ATMs) are handy, but a popular scam can make it easy for ATM users to unwittingly hand off personal information to crooks.
These electronic banking systems offer considerable customer convenience, as users can obtain cash, transfer funds between their own accounts, and perform additional routine financial transactions without visiting their own bank or its branches. However, certain precautions are warranted, as thieves devise ways to steal sign-ins, card numbers, and other confidential data at ATMs.
Currently, the most common ATM scam is called skimming.
ATM skimming is now an all-too-prevalent high-tech crime, costing banks and their patrons bundles annually.
What is ATM skimming?
Essentially, ATM skimming occurs when thieves gather users’ card numbers and personal identification numbers (PINS)/passwords. The offenders are then able to access those bank customers’ accounts.
Thieves may use three basic tactics to practice ATM skimming.
- To gain banking customers’ personal information from their ATM cards, a criminal may attach a card-reading device to the card slot of an actual ATM. Such a device will scan and store the magnetic strip of each ATM card that is inserted into the banking machine.
- Additionally, the skimmer may place an overlay on the ATM keypad to record the user’s keystrokes and store the PIN or password.
- A criminal may also set up a hidden camera near the ATM to film the keypad, recording the user’s PIN or password, as it is entered.
ATM skimming victims may not know their private information has been stolen until they discover their bank accounts suddenly dwindling.
Similar crooked tactics have been practiced at gas pumps, store checkout counters, and other spots where customers swipe their credit cards, debit cards, or bank access cards.
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What can individuals do to protect their personal data on ATMs and other electronic financial equipment?
Try these seven smart strategies to keep your savings secure, while using an ATM.
1. Examine each ATM closely before using it.
Although ATM designs may vary, certain features may warrant caution. For example, a loose card reader, extra caution signage, hinged card slots, or superfluous wires may indicate the presence of ATM skimming devices. A keypad overlay or cover may also be cause for suspicion of ATM skimming.
If an ATM appears to be poorly maintained or needing repairs, it’s better to refrain from using it.
2. Avoid using an ATM that is being repaired.
Is a service technician currently working on the ATM or accompanying ones, if the site has multiple ATMs? Are the remaining units out of order? Maybe it’s safer to step inside the bank to perform today’s transaction.
Frequently, ATM skimmers will disconnect or otherwise disable several ATMs, luring banking customers to use their tampered target ATM.
3. Choose permanent ATMs, rather than temporary set-ups.
Temporary ATM stations, such as those erected at concerts, expos, or other major events, may not be as skimmer-proof as established sites. Banking customers need to exercise additional caution when using such equipment.
4. Alert the bank immediately, if the ATM eats your card.
If an ATM fails to return a customer’s card after a transaction (or a canceled transaction), then it’s time to contact the bank and report the problem right away.
5. Protect your PIN.
Banking customers must guard their PINs carefully to prevent theft. Each bank customer’s PIN is completely confidential, and this password data should be difficult for others to guess. If an ATM user suspects someone may have discovered his or her PIN, then that customer ought to ask the bank for assistance in establishing a new PIN.
At the ATM, bank customers need to shield the keypad while entering their PINs. The safest method of shielding the ATM keypad is to cover it with one hand, while punching the numbers with the other. And, of course, no banking customer ought to use an ATM with other individuals (particularly strangers) standing nearby.
6. Inspect your bank statements regularly.
By carefully examining monthly bank statements, ATM users can spot any surprises, such as unexplained withdrawals or unauthorized transactions.
Online banking customers can scan their own account data frequently, spot checking for unidentified activity. In the U.S. (and many other countries), account loss from fraud is limited, and bank protections may apply, although customers must report such instances as soon as possible.
7. If possible, use your own bank’s drive-up or walk-up window instead of the ATM.
This option may take a few extra minutes, and it means showing up at the actual bank during its open hours, but the added security and peace of mind may be well worth it. ATM skimming becomes a much bigger inconvenience than visiting the bank to perform simple transactions.
ATM technology is ever changing, and developers are testing new card readers that may make skimming more difficult. In the meantime, however, significant consumer caution is the best bet to skip ATM skimmer scams.