Fake ATM Empties Bank Accounts Prompts Caution

A fake ATM in Beijing left customers penniless before police shut it down in a grim reminder that technology often cuts both ways.

Customers attempting to use the bogus machine entered their card and PIN only to be frustrated by an “out of service” message. Unaware that they had fallen into a trap, customers continued on their way only to find out later that their bank accounts were emptied. The emergence of this fake ATM highlights the many risks associated with the convenience of ATM banking.

Chinese police have charged a 30 year old male with placing an ATM on a busy street to fraudulently capture the account numbers and PINs of passersby attempting to withdraw money. 

Before assuming that this kind of crime happens only in China, think again: it has already happened in the United States. In the first known case of its kind, a 1993 scheme featuring a group of men dubbed the “Buckland Boys” placed an authentic ATM in a Connecticut shopping mall. As with the Beijing case, customers attempting to use the machine to access their accounts were shown an “out of service message” after capturing users’ account and PIN information. The bandits reportedly netted some $100,000 before getting caught. Police found five more ATMs during the raid, signaling a possible attempt to set up an entire network of fake ATMs.

Although the deployment of third party ATMs at gas stations, convenience stores, and other locations gives businesses another way to earn money by providing an additional service for customers, users of such machines should remember one thing: the ATM might be fake.

Although the ATM industry speaks much about ATM skimming (the process where thieves attach auxiliary equipment to existing ATMs to steal customer information), it does not have much to say about the prevalence of fake ATMs, so the extent of the problem is difficult to determine. Some experts speculate, however, that thieves will always prefer skimming since it presumably carries with it less effort and risk while offering similar rewards.


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