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Sunday, September 30, 2012

How to Avoid ATM Theft, Scams and Skimmers

Even though I live in a very safe area of California, I rarely use an ATM machine after dark.  In addition, I avoid using ATM machines that are in remote locations, have loose parts, or seem “off” in some way.  Like most of us, I try to be cautious with my ATM card.  Therefore, I was shocked to discover that there are ATM scams that I didn’t even know existed!

ATM Scams Get More Sophisticated

There are a number of ATM scams that can trick even a cautious person.  Here are a few of the more common ones:

The blocking device:  Someone blocks the ATM slot.  You insert your card and enter your PIN number while someone is watching.  Nothing happens and your card does not come back out of the machine.  You go into the bank to report the problem.  While you are inside, the scammer removes the block, takes your card and leaves.  If they were watching closely, they also know your PIN number. 

Card Skimmers:  These are devices that can be ordered on the internet.  People attach them to an ATM machine and use them to obtain your banking information, card number, PIN number and all the information that the thieves need to make their own ATM cards using your information.

Fake ATM machines and attachments:  Another variation on the card skimmers are phony machines that take your information and then display a notice saying that the machine is out of money.  You get your card back, but the thieves have all the information they need to make another card.

Cash Traps:  These are devices that hold your money inside the machine.  When you go inside the bank to report the problem, the thieves are able to retrieve the money and leave quickly.

Phishing:  There are many types of phishing, the word used to describe emails that are sent to you asking for your bank or other personal information.  The writer may pretend to be your bank informing you that there is a problem with your ATM card.  They then ask you to click on a website and enter information from your card, including your PIN number.  Once you have done that, they can easily make another card using the information that you provided to them.

How to Protect Yourself from ATM Theft

The first step in protecting yourself is to read articles like this one, and stay up to date with new assaults on your ATM card.  In addition, follow the steps listed below as often as possible.  You can prevent most problems.

Use the same ATM machine as often as possible, and stop using it if something seems wrong.

When possible, use ATM machines that are inside banks.

If you have to use a new ATM machine, inspect it carefully.  Avoid using one that has extra cameras, signs or other unnecessary items cluttering up the area.

Never let a stranger offer to “help” you if there is a problem using a machine.

Avoid using an ATM machine if other people are lingering around it.

If a machine confiscates your card, use your cell phone and call the bank.  Wait until assistance arrives.

Do not use your ATM card to pay for restaurant meals or in similar situations when it may be out of your sight for a few minutes.  Unscrupulous individuals can steal the information from your card quickly.

Don’t fall for phishing emails.  Call your bank if you get a strange email, or go in and talk to them in person.

Check your bank account frequently online.  If you notice any suspicious activity, contact your bank immediately.

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