ATM Safety 101

Checking & Savings Accounts, Investing & Retiring

Theft of debit card information from ATMs is on a major rise, according to FICO. From the beginning of the year until April 9th, debit card information theft rose 174% over the same period in 2014 through ATMs located on bank properties and a staggering 317% in ATMs on non-bank properties. The surge represents the highest level of debit card ATM attacks in at least twenty years.

The majority of the thefts involve skimming, or the placement of a device over the top or inside the card-swiping slot to gather and transmit the card information. Other skimming methods include overlays of the keyboard that record keystrokes, or hidden cameras pointed at the PIN pad. However, thieves are still adept at observing PIN numbers as careless patrons type them in without observing their surroundings.

Here are a few suggestions for keeping your account information safe while using ATMs.

ATM Safety Tips

  • Look for Evidence of Tampering – Give the ATM area a lookover. Are there any oddly placed racks or pamphlets nearby that could hide a hidden camera? Do any of the features of the ATM not match the rest? Does the PIN pad seem unusually thick? Is the card reader physically loose? If you see anything questionable, do not use the ATM and contact bank employees. If you tend to use the same ATM all the time, it is easier for you to observe any differences.

  • Use Bank Location ATMs – The 317% increase in theft on non-bank property tells you all you need to know. The more remote a location is, the more likely it is to be subject to tampering by adding skimming devices or cameras. Remote areas also provide hiding places for criminals to observe the ATM transaction. Even within a bank environment, look for ATMs in high traffic areas to increase the odds of a safe transaction.
  • Cover PINs – Hidden cameras can spot your PIN number as you type it in, as can people in the ATM queue that don’t respect your personal space. Shield your PIN number from both mechanical and human prying eyes. Generally the PIN number is obscured on the screen, but if the number is displayed on the screen, be sure to shield that as well.
  • Limit ATM Transactions – The simplest protection is to use ATMs less often. Take larger quantities of cash at one time if you need to in order to limit the chances of theft. If you have the time, simply make your account withdrawal with a teller inside the bank. It’s old school, but it’s safe old school.
  • Avoid Weekend Transactions – Crooks like to install skimmers on weekends because there is greater ATM activity and limited activity at the bank locations. Anybody who finds a skimmer over the weekend is less likely to find a bank employee able to do anything about it.

It is also wise to monitor your account regularly for any signs of unauthorized activity. Do not ignore small transactions; crooks may be checking to see if the change is detected before proceeding with larger withdrawals. If you notice any signs that your account has been breached, contact your bank immediately.

In general, if you find unauthorized transactions, you are required to notify your bank within sixty days of receipt of your banking statement for that period. Verify the rules where you bank.

You may not be able to protect yourself from the most sophisticated ATM theft methods, but the steps above can certainly increase your odds. Be vigilant with your ATM transactions and monitor your accounts regularly, and you should be fine.

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