ATM Scams: How to Avoid Getting Skimmed

Criminals can abscond with ATM customers’ money without even confronting their victims.

How to Avoid ATM Skimming Scam

How? Cash machines are targeted by crooks who attach phony electronic devices – sometimes very well crafted and difficult to detect – over the ATM’s card reader and then rig a hidden camera close by, on the machine itself or on a nearby light fixture, according to an FBI reports on ATM skimmers.

An unsuspecting ATM customer inserts his bank card into the fake card reader, which then “skims” the account information from the card’s magnetic strip and stores the stolen data or sends it wirelessly to the thieves. Meanwhile, the hidden camera “shoulder surfs,” recording the customer’s hand movements as he inputs his PIN; similarly, a false keypad may be used to record the customer’s keystrokes. With the bank card information and the PIN, the criminal may encode a new, blank card to gain easy access to a victim’s account at any number of ATMs.

Defend Yourself

So, what’s a consumer to do to avoid being skimmed? The FBI recommends inspecting any ATM – whether it’s at a bank, a gas pump or elsewhere – and looking for anything suspicious like scratches or residue from adhesive or tape. Always cover the keypad with one hand when typing in a PIN, and try to use an indoor ATM when possible; it’s tougher for crooks to set up skimmers in well-trafficked areas. Keep an eye on bank statements, sign up for alerts that let you know of unusual account activity and consider an identity-theft protection and monitoring service like LifeLock. PCWorld suggests watching out for anyone milling about near an ATM and being wary of using an ATM that’s in a remote area or doesn’t appear to be part of a nearby business or bank.

Thieves Pay the Price

While losses related to skimming have been on the rise the past several years, the good news is that skimmers are being caught and serving time for their crimes. Some recent cases in the news include:

  • A 29-year-old Georgia man was sentenced in November 2012 to 38 months in federal prison for several skimming-related charges. He was ordered to pay more than $72,000 in restitution.
  • Also in November 2012, a 22-year-old Romanian from Broward, Fla., received a 3.5-year sentence in federal prison. He was found guilty of charges related to aggravated identity theft and possession of an ATM-skimming device and two “pinhole cameras” with video recorders, the Sun Sentinel.reports.
  • A 32-year-old Romanian man was recorded on camera placing a skimmer device on an ATM in England, and was subsequently apprehended when he returned to dismantle it. Techworld.com reported that the man, who is believed to have skimmed more than 9,000 PINs, is facing a jail sentence.

The takeaway is that vigilance is key to beating the skimmers. Watch your surroundings, be on the lookout for anything unusual and stay on top of your finances.

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