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How can I detect ATM skimmers?

Published July 3, 2018

ATM skimmers are unfortunately gaining popularity and becoming harder and harder to spot, resulting in expensive fraud. In a lot of cases, your bank might work with you to get back any funds lost after your card number and PIN are stolen by a skimmer, but it can be a lengthy and exhausting process, and isn't even guaranteed to get your money back.

Typically, they will involve two components: one to read your card number (adjacent to the ATM's card reader) and one to watch you enter your PIN via camera or keypad overlay. With those two pieces of information, thieves can either shop online with your information or use the card number to put a fraudulent magnetic strip onto a new card.

If you can avoid the trouble, why wouldn't you? Remember these tips when using ATMs to reduce the risk of encountering a skimmer and having your information stolen.

  • Try to only use their ATMs. There are a few reasons for this: (1) they will be less likely to "pass the buck" in the case of fraud since it's their account, their card and their facility, (2) you can start to get familiar with their ATMs and the feel of their card readers and PIN pads.
  • Request a card with a chip from your bank, especially if you plan to use it only in their ATMs and they support the technology.
  • Try to only use ATMs inside of a vestibule requiring card access. Typically, these areas will be monitored by [authorized] security cameras and so it will be more difficult for a scammer to add a device while being filmed.
  • Stay alert for things that feel shoddy or flimsy. The devices that do the most harm are the ones where you execute a complete transaction and don't even know your information has been captured, and this means the devices will be overlaid on the ATM's actual card reader and keypad. If the keypad isn't flush with the area around it, check whether it's firmly attached and seems like the actual ATM keypad versus an overlay designed to capture the button push and still push the button on which it's overlaid.
  • Look for external cameras. ATMs will often have built-in cameras that may be identifiable or concealed, but cameras that aren't built into the ATM (or firmly attached to the ATM's surroundings) wouldn't make sense for maintainability.