Technology is both a curse and a blessing, especially when it comes to your finances. We continue to improve our ability to do things faster and with greater ease, but we are increasingly open to new threats. By now, you’re probably aware of the safety precautions you should take when using an ATM: Never go alone at night, don’t allow anyone to stand too closely to you, etc. However, you may not be familiar with the ways your banking information could be at risk electronically.
Skimming is a fairly new tactic used by people who want to steal your ATM or debt card information. You could be very cautious about protecting your card and pin number, but skimmers are often hard to detect. The magnetic strip along your card that is swiped when making purchases or withdrawing money houses all of the information associated with your account. Your balance, account number and other personal info is made vulnerable when skimming is involved.
Usually, an ATM skimming device looks just like the normal card slot you’d use to begin your transaction. However, an additional card slot is affixed over the real one, which copies all of your information when you swipe your card. This data is then in the hands of the skimmer as soon as you walk away. Learning what a skimming set up looks like could help you avoid this from happening to you.
The Good Samaritan or “Lebanese Loop”
Sometimes the card slot on an ATM can be tampered with so your card will become stuck after you insert it. It doesn’t have to be a very elaborate set-up, either; the key is that you become frustrated and enter your PIN repeatedly. Meanwhile, someone nearby, perhaps posing as the next customer in line, offers their help. “Oh yeah, it ate my card yesterday. Try this…” You enter your PIN a few more times before giving up, they memorize the number. When you go inside to notify a teller, that person releases your card along with the contents of your account.
How to Protect Yourself
Stay Visible – Don’t use isolated or freestanding ATMs as they are more susceptible to tampering. ATM scammers target unattended machines, so avoid places like airports and convenience stores (yes, this includes 7-Eleven). Your best bet is to stick with the ones inside of bank lobbies that have video surveillance.
Trust Your Instincts – If you ever feel like something is “off” or you notice any strange behavior around an ATM you’re going to use, just walk away. There’s no sense in risking it when plenty of ATMs are available elsewhere.
Be Aware – The easiest way to catch suspicious activity in your bank account is to monitor it regularly. Failing to track the transactions in your checking or savings account allows more time to elapse without you ever knowing there’s a problem. Early detection allows for damage control.
Of course, there is no surefire way to avoid ATM scams completely, but you can definitely stay ahead of the game. Be cognizant of what’s happening around you when you go to make a deposit or withdrawal and stay diligent about checking up on your account balances, statements and your credit report to keep identity theft or fraud from leaving you penniless.
This guest post was written by Casey Bond from Go Banking Rates, a site bringing you informative personal finance content and helpful tools, as well as the best interest rates on financial services nationwide. Follow them on Twitter at @GoBankingRates.
Published or updated October 26, 2010.