Skimmers are ingenious little devices that crooks place on ATM machines in order to steal your credit/debit card information. These devices can sometimes be hard to detect, but if you know what to look for you can protect yourself.
The first thing to do before inserting your card into the ATM card reader is closely inspect it for anything that appears to be out of the ordinary. For example, does the card reader look like it actually belongs there as a part of the ATM or does it protrude, dangle or wobble when you touch it? Are there spots or patches of dried glue on or near the card reader? If so, there is a good chance that the card reader is a fake.
If you look closely at the photo on the right you’ll notice that the card reader is clean and actually built in to the machine. In all likelihood, this would be a safe machine to use.
If the card reader looks OK, take a quick look around the immediate area of the ATM. Look for a small camera that may have been hidden in the ceiling, under a stack of brochures, or anywhere else that one could conceivably be hidden. Crooks use tiny cameras to record your finger presses as you enter your PIN, then use that data along with the info collected by the fake card reader to create duplicate cards – which are then used to empty your accounts.
If you see ANYTHING that looks suspicious during your brief inspection, DO NOT USE that ATM. Go find another one. If you do decide that the machine is safe to use, use your free hand to cover your working hand while punching in your PIN. And if you see another person hanging around the ATM, leave and go find another one.
In general, bank ATMs are the safest while those located in convenience stores, supermarkets and malls are the riskiest.
About the author: Carol Feeny is a retired bank fraud specialist and entrepreneur.