ATM Fraud On The Rise: Staying Safe While Getting Cash

Security and Scams

Scammers are everywhere in web-based commerce. You might think you’re safe using cash, but scammers wait in one location you can’t avoid: the ATM.

ATM fraud is an old concern, but technological advances mean consumers need to be even more aware. Be cautious of the following:

1.) ATMs in weird locations

Cash is convenient. While it’s tempting to use whatever ATM is handy when the need arises, that can be risky. An ATM in a store corner are privately owned. The operators assume little liability for their safety.  If you must, choose ATMs in highly visible and public areas to minimize encountering a tampered machine.

Using ATMs in secure locations, like financial institutions, is best because they’re regularly monitored, maintained and covered by security cameras.

2.) Recent work

Two modifications are common in ATM scams. The first is a duplicate keypad on top of the existing one which relays PIN information to a third party, enabling fraud at a later time.

The second is a phony card reader which processes your card information and sends it elsewhere. These scams have become more common and harder to detect as 3-D printing technology has improved and become more accessible.  Molded plastic devices that fit like the original parts can be manufactured and purchased over the internet for a few hundred dollars.

There are a few telltale signs that you can use to tell the difference. First, keypads tend to wear over time. If a very old machine has bright, shiny keys, that’s a sign that something’s been modified. The same is true of card readers. Over time, from handling and use, card readers will develop scuffs and scratches. New-looking card readers should also be a red flag. Second, even the best molded plastic device will fit imperfectly. Scammers have to install devices in a hurry to avoid detection, so they may resort to quick fixes like electrical tape or plastic glue. Both of these will leave small signs of modification.

It’s better to be safe than sorry. If you have any suspicion that an ATM has been modified, don’t use it, and report your suspicion to the machine owner if possible. Exposing yourself to fraud is a lot worse than the inconvenience of finding another machine.

3.) Nearby strangers

Some scammers use their own senses to rob you. Standing behind you, the scammer will watch you enter your PIN. If successful, the scammer will mark you for pickpocketing and then use your ATM card to empty your account.

Other scammers use an accomplice who drops a bag behind you just after you enter your PIN and may also engage you in conversation. The scammer grabs your card while you’re distracted and replaces it with a phony, or just takes the cash you’ve withdrawn and runs.

To protect yourself, cover your hand when entering your PIN, stand close to the machine, and keep an eye out for anyone sitting near the machine on a laptop – they may be monitoring a camera designed to capture your PIN. Most importantly, stay focused. Watch your belongings, and ignore anyone who approaches you until you’ve finished your transaction.