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4 Bank ATM Machine Skimmer Fraud and Hacks To Watch For

By David Bakke

how to safely use atm machineThe best piece of advice that I can give you when it comes to the use of ATM/debit cards is this: be careful.

Personally, I own a debit card and I do carry it with me, but mainly for emergency purposes and because it’s a debit card that can actually generate rewards. Believe it or not, I would say I use it maybe one time per year because of the huge dangers involved.


Am I sounding paranoid? Am I just spouting off and making a mountain out of a molehill? Here are 4 reasons to help you understand my perspective:

1. You Are Less Protected Than With a Credit Card

When compared to an actual credit card, you have fewer protections at your disposal when you use your debit card. For example, let’s say you book an airline ticket and shortly thereafter, the carrier goes out of business. With a credit card, you can do what’s called a “chargeback” and basically get your money back. You have no such protection with a debit card.

2. They Could Be Watching

Criminals have been known to use cameras and/or high-powered binoculars to peer over your shoulder to get your banking information, so you now don’t just have to worry about the guy standing behind you. Credit cards often have better policies in place that will allow you to retain your money in the case of credit card information theft.

3. The “Skimmer” Scam

You put yourself at great risk for identity theft when you use an ATM card. It’s recently been given the nickname of the “skimmer scam.”

This is how it works: the criminal attaches a crude piece of Plexiglas of some sort directly over the slot where you insert your ATM card into the machine. This piece of Plexiglas is designed to “read” the information off of the magnetic strip from the back of your card. Once the criminal has this information in his possession, he can use it to duplicate a blank ATM card with your banking information on it and begin to empty your account.

4. Wireless Identity Theft

Recently these scam artists have upped their game as well. They now have wireless readers at their disposal which do the exact same thing. The only difference is that they never have to return to the actual machine to use your information and therefore decrease their chances of getting caught.

Still Not Convinced?

In one recent real-life example, thieves were able to get away with over $60,000 from just one machine alone using the “skimmer scam.” Just one machine. There are a million stories like this and don’t think you’re immune to this ever happening to you.

Preventive Measures

The security issues associated with using ATM/debit cards are real and you should be aware of them. If you still feel the need to carry and use one, there are a few things you can do to minimize your risk.

  • You should always place your free hand over the one that is entering your PIN to hide it from anyone spying on you.
  • You should always run your hand firmly over the slot that you insert your card into. If there is any sort of “wiggling” to it, then it may be a machine that has been targeted by criminals. Normally, these slots are tight and do not move. I’ve never felt a compromised one, but they say it’s not very hard to tell the difference.
  • I would seriously consider not using an ATM card at all. If you need cash, plan it out and stop by the bank before it closes and for all other cash needs, use your credit card as long as you know you can pay it off in time.

Do you know of any ATM horror stories? As always, your feedback and comments are greatly appreciated.

David Bakke
David started his own personal finance blog, YourFinances101, in June of 2009 and published his first book on ways to save more and spend less called "Don't Be A Mule..." Since then he has been a regular contributor for Money Crashers. He lives just outside Atlanta, GA and most all of his free time is taken up by his amazing three year old son, Nicholas.

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  • http://www.debt-tips.com/blog Kris

    I know there are risks, but using an ATM is just SO convenient. So I use it anyway. Of course, I do try to use caution and common sense, but I never know if those are enough to protect me.

    • David


      There is no denying the convenience factor, but I think sometimes this convenience lulls us into a sense of false security.

      Just be careful–and thanks for joining the conversation!

  • Castle Penn

    Thank you for posting this. I appreciate the sentiments in this post, because it is a great reminder that one must always be careful when using their ATM or credit cards. However, I do believe that more banks and credit unions are implementing new security measures specifically for debit cards, because these are the cards that are used most often by their clients. For example, if your card is lost or stolen, it is now much easier to report this to your lending institution and get your funds returned to you. Thanks again!

  • http://www.moneycrashers.com David

    Castle Penn

    Thanks for taking the time to contribute, your words are much appreciated.

    Take care


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