ATM Skimming on the Rise, Again

By: Robert Siciliano | May 3, 2016 (Edited July 7, 2017)

It seems like there's no end in sight for ATM skimming: A thief obtains an ATM user's information and makes cloned ATM cards, which he then uses to steal the victim's money. How does he get this information? From the secret card reading device called a "skimmer" he installs over the machines card slot and hidden cameras to capture keypad entries.

This crime is escalating, says the FICO Card Alert Service. Many card skimmer thieves get away with this crime, but occasionally, one is caught, such as the crook from San Diego who placed a skimming device in ATMs all over the States.

Allegedly he got data from about 4,900 cards and stole about $500,000. This crook, like many, had the money wired to an overseas account.

The skimming devices are placed on public "independent" ATMs, but bank ATMs are not immune to this possibility. Cards that are read via that black/brown/silver strip on the back are the most vulnerable, as this strip or "magnetic stripe" contains the card's data in plain, unencrypted text. Thieves get this data right off the strip with their skimming device.

What You Should Know

  • Never use a public ATM. These are so much easier for crooks to rig. The tampering may take place in the middle of a biting cold night, when nobody's around. Then the middle of the next night, the thief retrieves the data. This includes pumps at gas stations.
  • This doesn't mean let your guard down if you're using an ATM inside a bank. That can be rigged too.
  • First see if anything doesn't look quite right about the machines card slot. Inspect the slot before you insert your card. If it wiggles or the attachment of it seems out of place, don't use it.
  • Cover your hand as you type your PIN into the keypad. Remember, there may be a hidden camera placed by a thief.
  • If someone is standing behind you, no matter how innocent they look, don't be concerned about offending them if you conceal your hand. Gee, you'll never see that person again anyways.
  • Due to the Electronic Fund Transfer Act, you'll be reimbursed for stolen money provided you report the theft within 2-60 days of the incident depending on the nature of your card whether it's a credit or a debit card. Always check your card statements to spot any suspicious activity.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to discussing  identity theft prevention.


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