How to Protect Yourself from Rising ATM Theft

by Jessica Sommerfield · 0 comments

You’ve likely heard about recent debit reader security breaches at major retailers like Target and Home Depot. This has left many consumers nervous about using their debit cards while shopping, and rightly so.

Plenty of attention has gone into improving the security of these systems so, in the near future, card and reader technology will be much less susceptible to hackers.

What is troublesome is the lack of attention that has been given to a just as heavily used and highly vulnerable form of financial transactions — the ATM.

According to financial reports, ATM theft is currently at its highest point in two decades. 

Why are ATMs so susceptible? The main problem is that ATMs suffer the same weaknesses to hackers that the old debit reader systems of retailers do. There’s much more private ownership involved with ATMs, which will make it difficult to enforce improvements to make them compatible with safer card chip technology.

At the same time, hackers have steadily improved their ATM hacking devices, mainly:

  • “Skimming” devices that retrieve information from your card’s magnetic strip when you insert it in a cleverly disguised card slot designed to look identical to the machine’s actual card slot.
  • Hidden cameras that record your card and pin number as you’re keying it in.

With this kind of technology, and very little regulation, what can you do? Follow these four guidelines to improve your security when using an ATM.

Tip #1: Don’t use ATMs in secluded locations.

Thanks to Hollywood, most people know that if you don’t want to be robbed or murdered, it’s not a good idea to use the ATM late at night in a dark alley.

What I’m talking about is ATMs in locations not either inside or next to a bank, or in well-lit public areas with frequent traffic — those that present an easy target for someone planting or retrieving information from a skimming device or hidden camera.

Even some retail locations can present a target because there’s so much traffic that no one notices a hacker’s activities.

Tip #2: Look suspicious activity and be aware.

Don’t discount a perception that something’s just not right, or looks suspicious. When it comes to protecting your personal data, there’s greater reward than risk in being overly cautious.  Look for card slots that appear or feel strange.

Even if you’ve already inserted your card, remove it and go somewhere else. If you report it to the ATM owner, a potential threat can be avoided. If you suspect your information might have been skimmed, change your pin number, notify your bank, and carefully watch your account activity.

Tip #3: Always shield your PIN.

This is obvious when there are people around you, but because of the possibility of hidden cameras, it’s best to always shield your hand when entering your PIN on the keypad.

Even if a camera or skimming device captures your card number, they will still have to guess your ID number.

Tip#4: Use ATMs as little as possible.

Now that debit readers at retailers are more security, opt to get cash back when making your purchase rather than expose your card to a questionable ATM. Make deposits and withdrawals directly from your bank, and plan ahead of time so you won’t have to rely on an unfamiliar machine.

If you must use an ATM, try to stick with the same few machines so you grow familiar with its details and the activity around it. Debit cards, in general, hold greater liability for theft than credit cards. You may have as little as 2 days to report debit card fraud, compared to 60 days to dispute charges on your credit card statement.

It’s important to remember that anyone who uses technology, like an ATM, is susceptible to fraud at some point. Practice these tips and you’ll feel less vulnerably while still being able to enjoy the convenience of plastic transactions.

Have you been a victim of ATM fraud? What other tips do you have for keeping financial information safe?

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