One of the most common ways that criminals can steal your debit and credit card information is with the use of small devices called skimmers — malicious card readers that capture the personal data attached to a card’s magnetic stripe. These inconspicuous devices are installed by information thieves directly onto credit card readers and ATMs. The most unsettling part is that skimmers usually don’t prevent the credit card reader or ATM from working properly, so you may not realize someone has stolen your financial information until it’s too late. Fortunately, there are a few simple steps you can take to avoid being victimized. Here’s how to keep your information secure at the ATM.
Inspect the ATM
Check the ATM for any signs of tampering. In particular, you’ll want to inspect the top of the ATM, the card reader, keyboard, screen, and the area around the speakers. If you notice anything that doesn’t look right, don’t use that machine. An easy way to tell if a machine has been tampered with is to compare it with an ATM that’s beside it if there is one. If the keyboard on one machine is thicker than the other, for example, the machine with the thicker keyboard could have a PIN-capturing overlay. Other inconsistencies to look for are mismatched colors, logos that aren’t properly aligned, and elements that look “tacked on.”
Don’t Use the Magnetic Stripe
Whenever possible, avoid using the magnetic stripe of your credit or debit card to complete transactions. Skimmers are designed to capture financial information from your card’s magnetic stripe, which information thieves can then use to make fraudulent purchases online. Instead, use the EMV chip or an NFC service like Apple Pay, Android Pay, or Samsung Pay. These payment methods are more secure than magnetic stripe transactions, as they prevent your personal information from being transmitted.
Protect Your PIN
Thieves require your PIN to access your account, so make sure you keep it hidden. Never write your pin down, and don’t keep note of it anywhere. You should never reveal your PIN to anyone — not even bank tellers. Be aware of anyone standing too close to you, and cover the keypad with your hand while keying in your PIN. Crooks will sometimes install a tiny camera near a card skimmer to capture your information.
Avoid ATM Use on Weekends
Many criminals install card skimmers on Saturdays and Sundays when the banks are closed and fraudulent activity is more difficult to report. Limit your ATM use to weekdays to lower your risk of getting hit by a skimmer. If you must use an ATM during the weekend, use one in a restaurant, grocery store, or some other busy location.
Monitor Your Transactions
Timely reporting is a critical factor in many of the ATM fraud cases. Seek professional guidance from attorneys like the ones at powersmccartan.com at the earliest opportunity. Be sure to monitor your transactions and let your bank or financial institution know of any discrepancies. As long as you notify your bank or card issuer of a fraudulent transaction immediately, you will not be responsible for the charge. Consider using a personal finance app like Mint to track your spending. Also, use credit cards whenever possible. Since debit card transactions are actual cash transfers, recovering stolen funds requires filing an FDIC claim. Credit card transactions, on the other hand, can be canceled at any time.
Verify Your ATM Receipts
Always print a receipt from the ATM. This way, you’ll have proof of the transaction in case you need to make a claim. Check all ATM withdrawals and receipts against your bank statements, and report any errors immediately. Your bank or card issuer should reverse any fraudulent transactions.
Be Aware of Your Surroundings
Avoid ATMs in dimly-lit areas, particularly after nightfall. Whenever possible, use an ATM located inside a bank, or a building that is monitored with security cameras. Keep in mind that ATM fraud isn’t limited to information theft; there is also a risk of being forced into giving your PIN to a stranger, or being assaulted. If you see anyone hanging around an ATM looking suspicious, call the police. Criminals will often linger nearby so they can quickly retrieve the skimmer and access the data stored on it.
While the threat of information theft shouldn’t prevent you from using ATMs, it’s always a good idea to adopt a safety-first attitude when performing any kind of credit or debit card transaction. If something feels “off” about an ATM or card reader, simply don’t use it. Along with the above tips, avoiding suspicious ATMs altogether will help you keep your financial accounts safe from predators.
Amber Porter writes about money matters in her articles. Covering a range of topics from savings to how to read a contract she hopes her articles will be of use to a wide range of people.