How To Protect Yourself from ATM Theft

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ATM theft and ATM fraud is on the rise as thieves become bolder and smarter! ATMs have always been dangerous places Рpictures of people being held up or attacked from behind always flood my mind when I think of this sort of theft. However, with the ever-increasing ability to pack powerful technology into a tiny device, skimming has now become a major problem.

According to an article on Bankrate, the criminals that set up ATM skimming devices are highly organized and efficient – making it extremely difficult to gain an “upper hand” on them.

Here are some ways to protect yourself against common ATM theft, and skimming.

Physical Safety:

Make Sure You Are in a Safe Place

If you feel uncomfortable using the ATM at your local branch after hours…don’t! Try to get your cash during banking hours (use part of your lunch break if you have to), in order to avoid being there alone, with wads of cash.

If you must access cash after hours, you have other options. Most banks are part of larger ATM networks that allow customers to make withdrawals from any ATM within the network.

Know Your Surroundings

Try to use a machine that is indoors whenever you can. Stay in well-lit areas and take note of everyone and everything around you at all times. The vast majority of people who visit an ATM are there for one reason – to take out cash! Everyone knows this, and so you can never be too careful.

If you feel that someone in your immediate area looks suspicious, or something just doesn’t feel/look right, then leave. As we noted above, you have plenty of options!

Have your card hidden in your hand so you don’t have to fumble around your purse/wallet looking for it.

ATM Theft

Protection From Skimming:

Skimming is the use of a device, or set of devices, that are designed to steal the account information from your debit or credit card. This can include account numbers, personal identification numbers, and even security codes.

If a thief captures your this account information, they can then shop online using your account, or even create a replica of your card and shop inside of any store they wish!

This is sometimes done by placing a device inside of the ATM card reader to gather the account information, and using a small camera to record PINs. The information will be stored onto a device nearby, or even uploaded to a server!

Here are some ways to avoid this latest scam:

Cover Your PIN

In case there is a camera that is recording your keystrokes, cover the ATM keypad with your free hand when entering your PIN. This will severely limit a skimmer’s ability to use your account to fund a spending spree.

Look for Things That Are Out of Place

If you are at an ATM and notice a mirror that seems to be in an odd place, or a few wires hanging out, then don’t complete your transaction. Look to see if something has been attached, moved, detached, or anything else out of the ordinary.

If you visit the same ATM often, then you will become familiar with the set up and will be able to spot anomalies much easier. Any change should be a cause for concern. Even if it’s something as small as a new brochure/pamphlet box on the machine, or a card reader or keypad that’s a little more loose than usual. These can all be signs of a newly installed skimming machine.

At one time the standard advice would be to just avoid ATMs, and use your debit card to shop – requesting cash back at the point of sale. However, according to an article on Yahoo Finance, “Avivah Litan, fraud analyst at Gartner, a research firm, estimates that fraud involving debit cards, PINs and point-of-sale equipment has surged 400% over the past five years”.

What this means is that you must be on guard even in retail establishments and supermarkets as well.

Well, with the onslaught of technology to make spending your money that much easier, let’s hope that ATM theft and fraud will meet it’s end.

photo by jonrawlinson

Reader Questions:

  1. What steps do you take to protect against ATM Theft and/or Skimming?
  2. Have you ever been the victim of ATM Fraud?
  3. How often do you actually go to an ATM?


  1. says

    I try to avoid ATM because I don’t like the fees… But if I really have to use one, then I’ll definitely cover up my pin and ask for my spouse or good friend to stand up near me (when I’m not alone).

    • says

      As long as you stick with your network you ought to be fine. I’ve never paid ATM fees unless I was overseas.
      I think I’m going to start taking a blanket with me so I can hide under the blanket.

    • says

      That will definitely help with a lot of this. People are less likely to rob you if they fear that someone may come around the corner and catch them in the act. Also, it will be harder for a skimmer to set up the necessary equipment – although it’s not impossible, especially if the ATM is not under the watch of a camera.

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