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ATM Skimmers – What They Are and How to Spot Them

Have you ever noticed anything unusual about an ATM when you withdraw money from it?  Whether you were a victim of ATM skimming or not, the answer is probably “no.”  The term “skimming” comes from the practice of installing a secondary reader that decodes your card’s information from the magnetic strip as you are making a transaction.  There are scammers out there every day manufacturing custom-fit skimmers and installing them on ATMs hoping that there will be a few dozen (or potentially a few hundred) account holders swipe their card before ATM owner notices.  On top of skimming, there usually will be a small hidden camera somewhere around the ATM that will allow the skimmer to see your pin as you type it in.  With both pieces of information, the thieves can remove the devices, take them home, and make a card that is, as far as another ATM is concerned, a duplicate of your own.  Because of this, you stand to be a victim of idendity theft just from making a simple transaction from an otherwise trusted location.

Here is an excerpt from an article that goes into detail on how to spot Skimmers and what to do should you happen to notice one:

To help readers better protect themselves from thieves who want to swipe their sensitive debit card information, we’ve shared pictures in the past of how to spot skimming devices on A.T.M.’s.

Skimmers applied to card readers (think fake card readers on top of the real ones) are designed to capture debit card magnetic stripe data, while tiny wireless cameras or overlays to existing personal identification number pads are designed to capture PIN information. Once thieves capture such data, they can use it to make fake cards or sell the information on the Internet to others.

Besides learning what skimming devices look like, consumers can also employ other strategies to spot the devices, according to John Pearce, director of commercial marketing for banking-financial and government systems at the security company ADT, which sells antiskimming technology. He recently shared the following strategies with us.

Perform an A.T.M. Inspection Before swiping your card, Mr. Pearce recommended that consumers examine A.T.M.’s for tell-tale signs of skimmers like visible glue marks or residue around the reader or PIN pad. Also, look for loose parts (tug on the card reader, say, to see if it comes off or if there is a loose appendage recently added to the machine). “You want to inspect the card reader slots first and foremost,” Mr. Pearce said. “If there’s any residual of glue around the PIN pad area or around the card slot, there’s a pretty good chance there was skimming activity in the recent past.”

Perform an A.T.M. Area Inspection Mr. Pearce also recommended that consumers look around the A.T.M. area to see if anything looks out of the ordinary. For instance, is there a cola can or pack of cigarettes on the top of the A.T.M. or promotional literature nearby? If so, look closely to make sure there’s no miniature camera hidden in such spots. Check the ceiling above the A.T.M. for such cameras as well. While legitimate security cameras for the banks will be clearly overt and visible, these cameras will be hidden and about three-fourths of an inch square in size, Mr. Pearce said.

Cover Your PIN When you type in your PIN, Mr. Pearce recommended using your other hand to shield the keypad to block it from video cameras hidden in the light above the keypad or elsewhere. This can also help protect your information from “shoulder surfers,” people who Mr. Pearce said stand off to the side to try to record your PIN.

Know Which A.T.M.’s to Pay Special Attention To
Mr. Pearce recommended being extra vigilant and cautious when using A.T.M.’s at heavily trafficked areas like malls, airports and gas stations. In many cases, he said, skimming can go unnoticed in such locations because there aren’t any personnel monitoring the machines. In addition, if you’re having problems using a machine, avoid any offers from help from strangers. “They know you are having a problem because they caused the problem to take place in the first place,” Mr. Pearce said, noting that they would ask for your personal identification number as they try to enter your card.

Know When to Use Your Credit Card
In situations where your card goes out of your line of sight (like at a restaurant or hotel), Mr. Pearce recommended using a credit card rather than a debit card.

Original entry can be found  here.

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