In 2008, ATM skimmers stole over $1 billion. Though data on recent financial losses due to this vice is not available, you can be sure that it reflects higher losses. Both banks and ATM users suffer from the losses. This means that anyone is susceptible to ATM skimming.

How Does It Work?
Years ago, the only way to steal from ATMs was to crack or blow them open and then take the cash. Today, with ever increasing highly advanced options, thieves have become more sophisticated. It is very easy for someone to steal your credit or debit card information at an ATM without your knowledge. Criminals will then utilize your information to access your account and take money from it or use it to engage in identity theft.

The goal of ATM skimmers is twofold. First, skimmers get hold of information stored in your magnetic card strip. Second, they steal your Personal Identification Number (PIN). With these details, getting into your bank account becomes very easy.

To get your card information, the most commonly used skimming device is one that fits either inside of the card slot or over the top of it. When you insert your card, it captures the information stored on the magnetic stripe.

The skimmer may use a hidden camera to get ahold of your PIN. Skimmers position the camera in such a way that it provides a good view of the keypad. The camera records your PIN as you type it. Alternatively, a skimmer may place a fake keypad (PIN pad overlay) onto the real one. It then records your keystroke as you type in your PIN.

Tips to Avoid Becoming a Victim
While technology is making it harder to detect ATM skimming, there are certain steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim:

  • Look around before you withdraw cash. A credit card skimming device can be hard to detect, but it does not hurt to try. Look for anything that is out of the ordinary, especially around the card insertion slot. If something suspiciously stands out in terms of color or design, let the bank know or use another ATM. Also, try jiggling your card as you insert it. If it jiggles, it is better to stay safe and use another machine.
  • Check for any hidden cameras. Some skimmers install the camera on the ATM. Others use other locations such as the brochure rack. Again, carefully look around to spot anything suspicious before continuing with your withdrawal.
  • Hide the keypad with your hand as you type. One of the most effective defensive measures is to protect your keypad activity from any camera watching. You can even use something bigger like an envelope or a book. The aim is to ensure that a hidden camera does not record your keystrokes.
  • Check the keypad before you type. While covering your keypad activity at an ATM will protect you from the cameras, it will not protect you from a PIN pad overlay. Check to see if the keypad is different from usual. Sometimes it can feel a little thicker than what you expect.

At times, the skimmers can overlay the whole ATM with a mold that resembles the original ATM surface. This mold contains a skimmer and a camera to steal your information. It can be much harder to spot.

Ultimately, the best advice is to follow your intuition. If something does not look and feel right, do not take the risk. You should instead find another ATM and stay safe.

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