How often do you visit an ATM? How secure do you feel about the transactions – is it safe or the transaction or the machine has been compromised?
We use and rely on the convenience of ATMs every day. We hear about ATM scams on the news, but we fool ourselves into thinking it will never happen to us. The reality is it can, so we need to know the signs.
Scammers and fraudsters can install imitation devices to steal your card info or PIN. They can also place cameras to record what you do or develop elaborate schemes to steal your card outright. These fraudsters rely on complacency to land a quick score.
By knowing what to look for and what to do when you see evidence of a scam, you can keep your money safe. Read on for a guide on spotting ATM scams and avoiding fraud.
The Dangers of Card Skimmers
Chances are if you are going to be the victim of ATM scams, it’s going to be because of card skimming. A card skimmer is a device that records the financial information of your bank access or debit card. They can appear anywhere where you swipe or insert your card to buy goods or access services.
The most dangerous place to get caught by a card skimmer is at the bank or an ATM. Should a criminal place a card skimmer on an ATM, unsuspecting people could fall victim to ATM fraud. The fraudster will be able to take your card info, including your PIN, and use it even to clone your card.
With a copy of your card, they could do significant damage to your finances. Criminals could go from ATM to ATM, withdrawing cash before you or the system catches on. It’s important to remember that most banks have fraud protection policies in place.
This means you won’t be on the hook for the stolen money and dispute the fraud. That said, it can still be a long, drawn-out, and stressful process. Avoid the whole thing by recognizing the dangers of card skimmers and how to spot them.
Look for ATM Skimmers
The first thing you should do is look for anything wrong with the card reader. If it looks bulky, roughly made, or if it sticks out too much, it’s likely a card skimmer. Try to see if there are other machines to compare it to, especially inside the bank where security is better.
Using an ATM you are familiar with is also recommended. You’ll know if anything feels or looks off.
The most common card skimmer is one placed over the original one. It will usually be wider or thicker and often imperfectly imitate the coloring or shape.
Sometimes they can look believable, but it’s only at first glance. Things like glue around the seal are obvious signs. If you’re very observant, you might see wires sticking out or visible through the plastic if it’s semi-translucent.
Tape or anything hanging from the reader or ATM are definite no-nos. Finally, give the card reader a bit of a tug. Remember that fraudsters want quick and easy access to your money.
The seal or adhesive of the card reader isn’t likely to be very hard to remove. They’ll want to take it off and bolt at a moment’s notice. If the card reader is loose in any way, or you feel like you could remove it without significant force, it’s likely a sign of tampering.
An original card reader is super secure. You’re unlikely to be able to remove it without tools or significant damage to the machine.
Fake PIN Pads
An ATM PIN pad is another place where a fraudster could get you. Like the card skimmer, fake PIN pads are devices that steal your info. They target your PIN or passcode but often work in tandem with other methods to get more info from you.
A typical fake PIN pad will look like a plate resting over the top of an existing one. It will still activate the corresponding buttons below it. While it does this, it will also record your inputs for criminals to use later.
Some of these are literally placed resting on top of flat table-top keypads. Others are the vertical or horizontal ones secured to the front, like the card reader. Many of the same tips for the card reader apply here.
Look for signs that it doesn’t quite sit in place. If you see rough edges where it doesn’t sit flush, that could be a sign. Check if the buttons feel off as well, such as being too soft or not tactile when they should be.
Signs of adhesive, tape or other fasteners are also problematic. Many fake keypads aren’t attached at all. They sit in place using only gravity, so you can nudge or try and pick it up to check.
Pads that are firmly attached come off with little resistance. Some fakes even send Wi-Fi signals, making them extra dangerous and easy to use. Again check the machines around you and remember what they should look like.
There are many additional signs of a tampered ATM. Fraudsters are clever and brazen too. In addition to card skimmers and fake PIN pads, compromised ATMs could also have cameras attached to them.
These vary from small pinhole cameras to more noticeable attachments. These are often aimed at the keypad to try and get your info. Be on the lookout for any lens or camera-like device that’s attached to the ATM and is capable of seeing your PIN.
Your PIN is your private business, and no bank will ever record your PIN using an ATM camera. A security camera might see things, but they likely won’t be on the ATM and will never look straight down at the keypad.
It’s a good idea to always cover the keypad with your hand when typing in your PIN. You should do this whether you suspect a camera or not.
Faking the Whole Front
Another method fraudsters may use is replacing the entire front panel of the ATM. This is one of the more extreme scams which require time, speed, expertise, and a lack of security to pull off. You aren’t likely to see this in most banks or busy malls, but they do happen in those places.
Replacing the whole front panel makes it harder to spot irregularities. This is especially true for smaller independent machines run by third parties. You aren’t likely to know what these machines should look like.
That said, you can still look for signs of poor craftsmanship or a poor fit. If the panel feels loose or looks too bulky for the machine, you should avoid using it. Signs that it’s held in place by an adhesive rather than actual screws or bolts are also a major red flag.
Check sites like bytefederal.com to know what their ATMs look like and report anything suspicious you notice.
The Lebanese Loop
The Lebanese loop is one of the more famous ATM frauds out there. It involves tampering with the card slot to trap your card inside the machine. There are many ways to do this, but a common one is with a barbed piece of plastic.
This method lets you slide your card in but doesn’t let you or the machine pull the card out. Every time the card tries to eject, it gets stuck and pushed back in, leading the ATM to ask for your PIN again. This creates an infinite loop designed to frustrate you.
The fraudsters hope you’ll believe the ATM swallowed your card and that you’ll walk away. While you’re away getting help or giving up and going home, the masterminds will swing by and run off with your card.
This may feel like a niche trick, but it’s more common than you’d think. It’s also representative of the many ways fraudsters find to rob you of your hard-earned cash.
Pay Attention and Know What to Do
The most important thing to do when using an ATM is to pay attention to your surroundings. Don’t only hyper-focus on the ATM itself. Pay attention to what, and especially who is around you.
A significant amount of ATM fraud occurs due to people taking a peek at your PIN over your shoulder. If people are standing too close to you or seem to be loitering close to the ATM without a good reason, it could be a bad sign.
Scammers work in groups, and there have been cases of some pretending to offer help while others swipe your card or info while you’re distracted.
Don’t get so caught up in checking the machine that you forget to check what’s around you. If you suspect anything is wrong, stop and double-check. Talk to a bank employee if you can to report your suspicions.
If you’re unable to talk to anyone, avoid using that machine until you do. Call the police to report the suspicious machine or scam to help save others.
Avoid ATM Scams
Fraudsters are getting cleverer when it comes to ATM scams. To keep your money safe, you need to know the signs if someone has tampered with the machine or is running a scam on it.