Beware of ATM scammers

Jan 4, 2011

Just how safe is that ATM?  The Better Business Bureau says identity thieves are getting better at stealing your debit card info. They're using hidden cameras and fake keypads and card scanners to capture your account numbers and PINs. 

Javelin Strategy and Research estimates as many as one in five people have fallen victim to these scammers.

Robert W. G. Andrew is CEO of the BBB serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington.  He says:

“Skimming devices are becoming increasingly harder to detect and often blend in seamlessly with the ATM. If you’re going to use an ATM, it’s important to monitor accounts closely, so you can quickly detect fraudulent activity and minimize your losses,” says Andrew.

Thieves often install fake equipment right on top of a real ATM.  It's hard to distinguish from the real thing, as you can see in this video from bankrate.com.

How can you protect yourself?  The BBB offers this advice:

Be picky with ATMs

– Try to use the same ATM every time. This will make it easier to notice changes and identify attached devices that steal numbers. Experts often recommend choosing bank ATMs over standalone ATMs; thieves sometimes place phony ATMs in public places. Avoid ATMs in poorly lit areas.

Protect PINs

– When entering a PIN number, cover the keypad with a hand to prevent any cameras from catching digits. False keypads placed over real keypads are also a way scammers get PIN numbers; if the keypad looks different, move on.

Inspect the scanner

– Skimming devices are often false panels attached to the ATM—usually where the card inserts into the machine. Wiggle parts of the ATM that look damaged or different to check for looseness. Also look for new or suspiciously placed cameras and unusual signage.

Keep an eye on statements

– Even the most vigilant person can still fall victim to ATM skimmers, so keep a close eye on accounts and statements. Report suspicious activity immediately. Consumer protections for debit cards vary, but depend largely on when the fraudulent activity is reported. Waiting too long to report fraud can lead to cleaned out bank accounts and difficulty reversing unauthorized charges.