ATM skimming is quite common these days. Skimmers place some hacking devices in the public ATMs and collect all the relevant information required to withdraw cash from your account. In order to make sure your card is safe while using an ATM terminal here is a guide to help you identify and avoid ATM skimmers.

What is ATM Skimming?

A skimmer is a card reader that can be disguised to look like part of an ATM. The skimmer attachment collects card numbers and PIN codes, which are then replicated into counterfeit cards. Skimming is the type of fraud that occurs when an ATM is compromised by a skimmer.

The most frequently used methods of skimming are used on the card reader insert area. Before using an ATM, be observant of the following parts of the ATM:

  • PIN keypad
  • Card insert slot
  • Hidden Camera

When you slide your card into an ATM that has a skimmer attached, you’re unwittingly sliding it through the counterfeit reader, which scans and stores all your information from the magnetic strip as well as capturing your PIN from the keypad. This makes skimmers particularly dangerous compared to other forms of card compromise because the collected card data can be used to make ATM cash withdrawals. Make sure that you first check the card reader before putting your card in by grabbing it with your finger and shaking and pulling it outwards to make sure that it’s not an add-on to the actual card reader. Once a skimmer is placed on this card reader, you can see that it looks slightly different, with the card reader appearing raised or bulkier:

Examine the card reader for signs of tampering

Card readers should be sturdily attached to the machine. Anything unusual or out of place may be a sign that it has been tampered with. Stop using the ATM if it is difficult to enter your card. Normal ATMs should easily and quickly accept your card. If the ATM is slow or if it is difficult to get your card in the reader, stop what you are doing, In particular, be wary if:

There are glue marks around the reader.

There is tape sticking out from under the reader.

The reader is skewed or hanging off to the side.

A loose piece of plastic or equipment is sticking out from the reader.

Image of skimmer being placed over an ATM card reader

When visiting an ATM, check these parts for:

  • Tape and/or sticky glue residue on any part of the ATM
  • Bulkiness on the card insert area or the PIN keypad
  • Anything hanging from the ATM
  • Wiggle the card slot or keypad for loose-fitting attachments

Sometimes, thieves will put a fake key pad over the real pad to capture your PIN number. A fake key pad may have larger or thicker keys than usual. It may also be raised up from the rest of the ATM. Press down on the key pad to see if it feels sticky or spongy. Press a few random keys. If it feels spongy, sticky, or rigid, there may be a fake pad attached. Here’s an example of what false PIN pad looks like:

PIN pad double keyboard for skimmers

Look around for a hidden camera

Small cameras are often attached to the ATM to get your PIN number after you enter your card. Cameras may be hidden above the PIN pad, above the display screen, or in nearby structures, like a rack or shelf.

  • If you see a small pinhole drilled into the ATM, be careful, as it could be a small camera.
  • If you see something like a pack of cigarettes, book, deck of cards, or mug sitting on or near the ATM, move it aside to see if it is hiding a camera.
  • Legitimate cameras installed by the bank are usually very noticeable. They may be large, and there may be a sign indicating where they are. Card skimmer cameras are usually very small or hidden.
Image titled Spot an ATM Skimmer Step 3

Use ATM machines in busy and populated areas

Thieves are more likely to install skimmers in isolated areas where they won’t be caught. While no ATM is completely risk-free, it is better to use skimmers inside buildings or in densely populated areas.

  • If you use an indoor ATM, check the location. If it is located somewhere an employee can see it easily, it is safer than an ATM stuck in a back corner or hidden by furniture.
  • If you use an outdoor ATM, make sure it is close to the door of a building or facing a busy street.

Cover the keypad with 1 hand when you enter your PIN

This will prevent a camera from catching your PIN after you enter your card. Keep in mind, however, that this will not protect your PIN if there is a fake keypad attached.

Image titled Spot an ATM Skimmer Step 12

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