How Scammers Set up ATM Skimmers to Steal your Money

A modern-day nightmare is to have ID or credit card data stolen leading to serious complications and loss of money for individuals. Where there’s a will, there’s a way and when it comes to creative ways of larceny, they seem to be getting more high-tech as skimmers have been found in a variety of places (affixed to ATMs, inside gas pumps, on ticket vending machines and POS machines) and by the time they were detected, the perpetrators had made off with tens of thousands of dollars.

Unfortunately, as pointed out above the ATM is not the only place one needs to be alert. In North Carolina, ill-fated shoppers who used the self-checkout machines at several Lucky supermarkets (October-November 2011) had their account information stolen. This risk-free crime has become so common that according to an FTC report, in some parts of the country it is more likely that someone may become the victim of this particular crime than physical crime. Therefore, knowledge on how it works can be a step towards protection.

How it works

Basically what occurs is that a fake card-reading device is attached to an ATM (the front) and by using a Bluetooth or through text messaging transmits the data received from the magnetic strip straight to the criminal’s hands. Due to the fact that collecting the card number is not enough, most skimmers have the ability to store the PIN and security code. So a variety of such devices have false keypads that are placed on top of the actual keypad (this way they record the keys that were pressed) while others come with hard-to-detect pinhole cameras placed above the keypad cameras that collect images of the victim entering his/her personal information. The individual’s sensitive credit card information is from then on at the mercy of those criminals and is then either sold to others for cash or replicated onto a phony card. They are so sophisticated that it is too frightening a prospect.

Take precautions

The most sophisticated skimmers are quite difficult to perceive, but they are not that commonly used since they require high technology and money to manufacture. So when at the ATM look very carefully to notice whether there is anything  sticking out too far or if certain parts do not blend in properly with the rest of the machine. Some are not well fastened on to the card reader. Thus, for precaution’s sake, pull on the part that looks like it does not belong. Before inserting the card, it is a good idea to pull at the reader or jostle the card around the slot to detect whether something is loosely attached.  

Even when everything looks fine, to be on the safe side place the other hand over the keyboard to block the view so that the PIN number cannot be filmed by a possible pinhole camera. Another thing to look out for is someone lingering around the ATM. Some skimmers require that a person literally go and pickup the information, so if someone seems to be in the vicinity of the machine too long, it may be a sign that it has been tampered with. But it does not stop there.  Scammers have even set up entire false ATMs. In 2009 a fake ATM was spotted at a hotel. Be cautious then of such machines in isolated locations that are not or do not seem to be part of a bank or store.

Finally, upon receipt of the credit card bill and bank statements, examine them for transactions that may not be in accordance. Look out for charges unaccounted for or unauthorized cash withdrawals which are initial indications that credit card information has been stolen.  If there is such a case, contact the bank or financial institution immediately!

Staying informed and being aware of one’s moves can make the difference between being conned into a pecuniary predicament and being out of harm’s way.