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How to Avoid ATM Skimmers

The use of ATM skimmers to steal debit card information is on the rise. We break down the anatomy of the attack to help you stay secure from thieves.

Did you know that stealing a credit card number is as easy as plugging a magnetic strip reader into a computer and opening up Microsoft Word?

Thieves can attach malicious card readers (skimmers) to payment systems that harvest data from whoever swipes their cards. From there, they can clone the cards or break into the accounts to steal your money.

Typical ATM skimmers are smaller than a deck of cards. They sit right on top of existing card readers so you (hopefully) won’t even notice them. Most of the time, attackers will place a hidden camera somewhere, too, to catch your PIN number. And sometimes, they even install fake PIN pads on top of the keyboard to capture it directly. Even chip cards are unprotected—skimmers can read those, too.

So, what can you do?

Stay aware.

When you arrive at an ATM, grocery store checkout, or gas station pump, check for the obvious signs of tampering on the card reader and surrounding area, like mismatched colors, text, graphics, and so on. If you’re somewhere with multiple ATMs, quickly check that they look the same. If they keyboard feels weird (too thick, etc), don’t use it. And most importantly, if parts feel loose, it’s probably a fake.

This is a photo of a real ATM skimmer. You can see the arrows are touching the mismatched colored card reader—a sign that something is off here.

Hide your pin.

Do your best to cover your PIN when you type it in to prevent any hidden cameras from catching it.

Go on a weekday, if possible.

The chances of getting hit by a skimmer are higher on the weekend than during the week, since it’s harder for customers to report the suspicious ATMs to the bank. Criminals typically install skimmers on Saturdays or Sundays, and then remove them before the banks reopen on Monday.

Use Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, or Android pay.

These services tokenize your credit card information, so your personal information is never exposed. It someone does get the data, it’ll only be a useless virtual credit card number.

Pay attention to your accounts.

If you notice something is off with your account, take action as soon as possible to avoid being held liable and to keep your credit from being affected.

Have any questions? Reach out, or contact your bank today.