How Scammers Set up ATM Skimmers to Steal your Money

ATM scams have become an unfortunate reality in today’s world. As the use of these automated machines has become a primary method to access cash, scammers have found a lucrative way to try and rip people off.

As with any convenience, there is typically a trade-off, and with ATMs, one of the biggest risks these days are devices called skimmers.

• What are skimmers?

ATM skimmers are small devices which contain a magnetic head that captures data. The device is typically either placed on top of or inside of an automated teller machine. Sometimes a skimmer is easy to detect, other times is designed very cleverly where a user may have difficulty noticing an ATM has been tampered with. When the user slides the ATM card into the slot to perform a bank transaction, the device captures all of the information stored on the card.

• How thieves set up ATM skimmers

Unfortunately, as technology progresses, skimmers are becoming more sophisticated in nature and, as a result, harder to detect. Earlier skimmers were clunky and easier to detect, but modern ones are smaller and may blend right in with the ATM.

Skimmers are often used in conjunction with a camera and/or mirror, so the thief not only nabs the data stored on the card, but also the PIN number, giving the scammer access to the victim’s bank accounts. Once this is done, the stolen data is then generally used for illicit purposes, mainly theft.

Wireless technology is often a tool used to carry out the ATM fraud as scammers can then capture the data without having to return to the proverbial scene of the crime; all data is sent via a text message.

Often the skimmer looks just like a piece of the standard equipment and the user may not realize tinkering has been done until after they slide their card. A tell-tale sign is an error message shown on the ATM’s screen instead of the transaction being processed.

Thieves are getting crafty about skimming, often placing a skimmer on a machine over the weekend when people are shopping and banks are closed down until Monday morning. By the time anything amiss is noticed, the thieves are long gone.

• Avoid being a victim

ATM users can increase the security of their account when using automated cash access. Before sliding the card in, look to see if the card slot is loose, or protrudes more than usual, if so, this could mean the machine has been compromised.

It’s also a good idea to remain aware of surroundings, try and use the same ATMs on a routine basis and become familiarized with the machine as it will be easier to detect if anything is amiss, and cover your hand as you type in a PIN.

Fraud involving ATM is on the rise and ATM scams are a billion dollar illegal business, in 2009 ABC News reported the U.S. Secret Service estimated $1 billion a year, or $350,000 a day, and these figures continue to grow. It used to be primarily populated areas were targeted, but recent trends indicate small towns are increasingly being victimized by scammers as well.

ATM fraud does not discriminate, and anyone can be affected, however understanding what ATM skimmers are and how they work can increase personal security and protect bank accounts.