ATM Theft: 8 Tips to Protect Yourself From the 5 Most Common ATM Scams

5 Clever ATM Theft Scams and How To Avoid Them: Internet ScamBusters #213

Today we haver an important issue for you that focuses on ATM theft. It’s called “5 Clever ATM Theft Scams and How To Avoid Them.”

Fake PIN pads? Skimmers? Cash trapping? ATM theft is getting downright sneaky. Often people don’t know they’ve been victimized by ATM theft until it’s too late. Do you know how to recognize and protect yourself from these sneaky ATM scams? If not, today you’ll find out how.

Plus, we’ll answer the most common question we get about ATM machines: Does entering your PIN number in reverse really summon the police?

Let’s check out today’s…

5 Clever ATM Theft Scams and How To Avoid Them

With more than 1.5 million ATM machines around the world, most of us simply take our ATM cards for granted. Unfortunately, thieves know this and use it to their advantage — so ATM theft is a big problem.

In fact, as ATM banking technology advances so too do the thieves. They have become so clever in their crimes that you may well not see them coming. The good news is that there are easy ways to protect yourself from ATM theft.

In this ScamBusters issue, we highlight 5 common ATM scams. Since knowledge is power, we offer eight tips on recognizing and avoiding these scams.

But first, we’ll answer the most common question we receive about ATM machines: Does entering your PIN number in reverse really summon the police?

The answer is no. We started seeing the email hoaxes on this topic this past September. Although this concept seems like a good idea, and a system was actually designed to notify the police by a Chicago businessman (so there is a grain of truth to this urban legend), no such system has been implemented.

The banking industry is not interested in the technology because of the cost and because they don’t believe it would work. Imagine trying to remember you PIN number backwards with a thief pointing a gun at your head. 😉

So, simply delete these email hoaxes and don’t spread them to your friends.

Now let’s move on to…

5 Common, Real ATM Theft Scams

1. The Lebanese Loop

Many thieves are using external devices to confiscate your card. In this scam, a blocking device (which can be as simple as some film glued to trap ATM cards), is inserted into the card slot of the ATM machine. Unwittingly, you place your card into the machine and enter your PIN. All the while, someone nearby may be watching you enter your PIN number.

A very common reaction is to go into the bank to report your confiscated card. Now the thieves jump into action. They remove the blocking device, along with your trapped ATM card and withdraw money from your account.

The way the scammers use the Lebanese Loop can vary. Often, once your ATM card is trapped, a “Good Samaritan” will show up and offer advice on how to get your card back. They may suggest that you enter your PIN number a couple of times.

They might also offer to hold the cancel button while you enter your PIN. What they’re really doing is memorizing your PIN number. They’re certainly not Samaritans at all!

2. Card Skimming

Skimmers are devices added to ATM machines to capture your card’s information, including your account number, balance, and PIN number. These devices, often mounted alongside a machine and labeled ‘card cleaners,’ are difficult to notice unless you’re looking for them.

You may also find card skimmers mounted beside the normal ATM card slot with a sign that says, “slide card here first.” Sometimes they are even mounted right on top of where you would normally enter your card. Skimmers can actually collect and store up to 200 ATM cards before they need to be removed by thieves.

3. Shoulder Surfing, Fake PIN Pads, and Even Fake Machines

Another way to glean your ATM PIN number is for thieves to mount a wireless video camera inside the ATM area. It can look as harmless as a brochure holder. Once the scammers have your number, magnetic strips are easy to make and thieves are able to easily reproduce ATM cards.

In addition to using cameras to collect PIN numbers, thieves have designed fake PIN pads that they place on top of the original ATM PIN pad. Unfortunately, with fake PIN pads, your ATM transaction will proceed normally and you won’t know a scammer has stolen anything until it’s too late.

Thieves have also taken to occasionally putting up fake ATM machines in and around shopping centers and other public locations. Upon placing your card into the card reader, these machines collect your ATM PIN and account information. They do not dispense cash. Rather, a screen comes up that says that the machine is out of money or out of order.

4. Cash Trapping.

Similar to the Lebanese Loop where a thin sleeve traps your card, this time your cash is trapped by a sleeve or device slipped inside the cash dispenser. Your transaction will operate normally, but you won’t receive the cash you’ve withdrawn.

Chances are you’ll either walk or drive away assuming the machine is out of order or you’ll go inside the bank and report the incident. Either way, you have left the machine and the thieves can walk up, remove the device, and your cash.

5. Phishing

We mentioned above how easy it is for thieves to replicate ATM cards. All they need is a magnetic strip and a plastic card. Armed with an ATM card, all a would-be thief needs is a PIN number. Some email phishing scams have been designed to find out just that.

Representing your bank, a scammer can send you an email with a notice on it saying something about incomplete account information or that you need to update your account information. You click on the link and follow the directions but you’re not at your bank, you’re at a site designed to look like your bank by thieves. They collect your information and are free to replicate your ATM card or simply withdraw your money from your account via online banking.

8 Tips to Help You Protect Yourself From ATM Theft:

  1. Get in the habit of using the same ATM machine for your transactions. Become familiar with it and be able to recognize changes to the machine.
  2. Use ATM machines inside banks rather than on the street (where they’re easier for thieves to access).
  3. If you’re visiting an unfamiliar ATM machine that is not inside a bank, examine it carefully for devices. Card or cash trapping devices need to be glued or taped to the card reader or cash dispenser. Look for ‘extra’ cameras beyond the basic and generally obvious ATM security camera.
  4. Never rely on the help of strangers to retrieve a confiscated card.
  5. Never use an ATM machine when other people are lingering.
  6. Report confiscated cards immediately. If you can, don’t leave the machine. Instead call the bank from the ATM where your card was taken using a cell phone.
  7. Don’t use ATM machines with extra signage or warnings posted on the machine.
  8. Never follow a link in a supposed bank email notice. If you are wondering if your bank has really contacted you via email, then close the email and directly type your bank’s website address into your browser. Visit your account and look for update notices directly on your account or bank’s website. The email is almost always a phishing scam.

While ATM theft isn’t going to go away, the Global ATM Security Alliance reports that just .0016% of all ATM transactions worldwide are affected by crime or fraud. Additionally, with a little bit of care and attention, you can avoid these scams and keep your money.

For more information on how to keep your bank account safe from predators, click here.

That’s all for today — we’ll see you next week.