ATM "skimming” is an illegal activity that results in millions of dollars of theft annually from unsuspecting card holders worldwide. It is a two phase process in which criminals steal information from an ATM card’s magnetic strip and the associated Personal Identification (PIN) number. Though it is a common crime, a card holder who is aware of this danger and knows what signs to look for can protect himself and his wallet.
Image Credit: BB&T
In addition to the information garnered from the magnetic strip on an ATM card, the criminal also needs to obtain the PIN number. This can be obtained through the use of a hidden camera which records a customer’s entry at the machine. The hidden camera may be as small as a pinhole and may be located on a nearby object or on the machine itself, always with a clear view of the keypad. The card holder’s PIN may also be obtained through a keypad overlay. This device is placed directly over the original keypad and records the card holder’s strokes.
A skimming device will only last a few hours, so there is a small window of operation. The criminals must return to the site to retrieve the devices. They then encode the stolen data/information onto fraudulent blank cards at a safe house location, usually the same day. They use these illegally made cards to steal funds from customers’ accounts via ATM Machines.
HOW TO AVOID BEING SKIMMED:
- Visually and physically inspect the ATM (and any card reading machine - at banks, gas stations, etc.). Suspicion should be raised if you see anything loose, crooked, or damaged, or if you notice adhesive glue/tape residue.
- Be extremely discreet when entering your PIN #. Block the keypad with your free hand to avoid information obtained by a hidden camera.
- ATMs at tourist locations are often excellent targets for criminals. Use with caution. Using an ATM from a reputable bank is often a better bet as they perform periodic physical inspections of their machines for such devices.