April 5th, 2010

ATM Skimming: Protecting Your Account

In the past year, financial institutions have seen a surge in a type of fraud known as ATM skimming. Skimming is when the functionality of an ATM has been altered so as to capture the information stored on the magnetic strip of your debit card (including your account number and possibly your personal identification number (PIN)) and store it, so a thief can access your account.

While the thought of having your bank account and identity compromised is certainly a scary one, knowing what to look for will give you a leg up and help keep you out of harm’s way.

What does a skimmed ATM look like?

It is difficult to know exactly what you’ll encounter should you come across a compromised ATM, but there are signs that could indicate tampering.

  • More than one place to swipe or insert your card. Sometimes skimmers will fabricate and affix additional card readers to the face of the ATM in order to capture your information. These are most likely to appear as swipe readers (where you swipe your card through a raised slot) because they are easier to skim.
  • Any plastic or metal pieces sticking out of or over top of the card reader slot. One way thieves will try an steal your information is by inserting a thin device into or over top of the ATM card reader slot in order to either make an imprint of your card, or trap it in the machine and retrieve it later.
  • Does the whole look and feel of the ATM just seem a little bit off? When something is off, you can sense it right away. It could be that the color of one of the front panels doesn’t match, or some strange out of place signage, or anything that makes you feel like something may not be right.
  • Someone waiting around the ATM. Sometimes the person who is skimming the ATM may pose as an innocent bystander waiting to “help” you when you have trouble with the ATM.


How can I protect myself from skimming?

  • Take a close look at the faceplate and card reader slot on the ATM. If anything about its appearance seems wrong, don’t attempt any transactions and notify the credit union immediately.
  • Test the durability of the card reader slot before you insert your card. Skimming devices are often mounted with double sided tape.
  • If something just looks or feels wrong, or someone is hanging around the ATM, you should walk away and notify the credit union immediately.
  • If an ATM has any unusual signage, don’t use it. We will never hang a sign that says, “Swipe your ATM here before inserting it in the card reader” or anything similar.
  • The safest ATMs are likely those located at the credit union. At SMCU all of our ATMs are under 24-hour video surveillance. Be aware of stand-alone ATMs like those at gas stations and malls. These ATMs commonly utilize the swipe readers that are easier to skim. That’s not to say you should avoid these “swipe reader” ATMs, simply be aware of the signs of possible fraudulent activity.

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