ATM Card Skimming on the Rise

How to Protect Yourself

ATM Card Skimming on the Rise
September 4, 2015

Card skimming is the practice of installing skimmers, or clandestine card readers, into ATMs. Card skimmers read your card number at the same time as the ATM. Combined with a pinhole camera that allows your PIN to be identified as you type it in, these systems allow criminals to steal your debit card information, create a fake card, and empty your account.

Worse still, losses are only capped if they are reported to the bank quickly. According to federal law, losses are capped at $50 if reported within two days and $500 if reported within sixty days when your card is lost or stolen. The same rules apply with a fraudulent card, but some banks can balk at replacing the cash since you cannot always prove that the use was fraudulent.

Skimming attacks are on the rise, according to FICO. ATM skimming on bank property has increased by 174% over the previous year and by 315% for ATMs outside of bank property, costing banks and customers an estimated $3 billion.

Card skimming technology has drastically improved over recent years, evolving into undetectable skimmers that fit inside the card slot. Crude faceplate skimmers still exist, but sophisticated skimmers are now readily available as completed assemblies. For an investment of a few thousand dollars, a criminal can be in the card-skimming business in no time.

How can you protect your card from being skimmed and your account from being drained? There are a few relatively simple steps you can take.

  • Use ATMs Strategically – The new devices may be sophisticated, but it still takes time for crooks to install them. It is best to use ATMs that are in full public view as much as possible, preferably with nearby video monitoring to guard against skimming tactics. ATMs on bank properties are generally safer, but even there the ATM may be off in a corner or a low-traffic area. Choose the ATM with the greatest collective visibility.

    If you use the same ATM regularly, you may be able to notice any changes in the appearance such as holes, new decals, or a slightly different looking surface on the PIN pad. If you suspect anything, notify the bank and use a different ATM or make your transactions through bank tellers in the interim.

  • Protect Your PIN – PIN protection is the key. A skimmer can discreetly get your card number, but they cannot get your PIN without some recording or observation method as you type it in. Covering the PIN pad with your hand as you type is the simplest method of protection. It may not be convenient, especially if you are using a drive-through ATM, but it is the best protection you have available. However, some sophisticated PIN overlays exist that can lift your data as you type.

  • Check Your Account Regularly – A simple online balance check at the end of the day can help limit the damage in case of fraud. If your bank offers the service, consider having an account activity alert put in place to flag unusual activity. You may be contacted to verify a purchase at point of sale or have to notify the bank of larger purchases in advance, but the inconvenience may be worth the increased security.

Choose ATMs wisely, assess them for any signs of tampering, and shield the PIN pad as you type your number. Those steps do not guarantee that your debit card information won't be compromised, but you can make it as difficult as possible for criminals. They are likely to move on to an easier target.


Photo ©iStock.com/ thawornnurak

  Conversation   |   30 Comments

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Sara | 09.04.15 @ 14:31
I tend to choose ATMS that are not in sketchy places for one. Secondly I try and choose them at banks I know. And I tend to look to see if that tape stuff is broken. But overall good information.
Katie | 09.04.15 @ 14:32
My bank has begun inserting a new chip in each ATM/VISA DEBIT.
Crystal | 09.04.15 @ 14:32
Great Advice
Katie | 09.04.15 @ 14:33
My bank has been inserting a new chip in the cards. Target is able to scramble our information that way now. So thats where we pull the money out of.
Christina | 09.04.15 @ 14:38
I had my credit card skimmed at a gas station! Now, if it doesn't ask me for a zip code, I don't use the pump -- or, I just pay cash!
Tina | 09.04.15 @ 14:44
Helpful information. I do watch my account like a hawk but the tips for using the ATMs was helpful.
Elaine | 09.04.15 @ 14:44
Seems like the skimmers are always one step ahead of the advise. I like the advise about covering the area when putting in your PIN number.
Crystal | 09.04.15 @ 14:47
I need to print this for my husband. Great advice and info! Thanks!
Stokes | 09.04.15 @ 14:48
I am always very vigilant about using ATMs and pin pads. This is very good information and something everyone should be doing,
Angie | 09.04.15 @ 14:53
So this is the main reason the card issuers have begun adding the chip? I hope it deters these criminals - if only they'd use all the time and effort on doing something worthwhile.
Kathryn | 09.04.15 @ 14:56
I only ever use my banks ATM for this purpose or I simply call and ask for my balance. You have to be careful with what you do with your valuables these days!
Beverly | 09.04.15 @ 14:57
I can't remember the last time I used an ATM, but they aren't the only ones susceptible to the skimmers, gas stations are as well. Good advice though.
Erin | 09.04.15 @ 14:57
Yikes, that's frightening. I'm glad the banks are moving towards inserting the chips to try to stay ahead of these types of ripoffs.
Wanda Langley | 09.04.15 @ 14:58
I was skimmed at a gas pump that was outside Walmart for $300. My bank reimbursed me but it was a hassle with needing to sign everything plus wait for a new card to be issued. I do not use my card for gas anyore. I go in and pay for it.
Britt | 09.04.15 @ 15:00
Its actually very rare that I use an ATM unless its AT a local bank, I tend to find they are much more secure.
Steffanie | 09.04.15 @ 15:00
Good information to have. I keep a pretty close eye on my account for these reasons.
Daniel Dohlstrom | 09.04.15 @ 15:01
Be aware, be diligent, be safe. There are those out there looking to make a buck any way they can, it is an ongoing struggle to stop them as they create new ways to scam you
Meredith L | 09.04.15 @ 15:03
There have been a rash of card skimming thefts in my local area. Generally I hate taking cash out and rather use my card instead but these cases are not happening at ATMS but rather by a device literally found at gas pumps and such. The best course of action is diligence, I guess!
Owen | 09.04.15 @ 15:04
Valuable information!
Kyle | 09.04.15 @ 15:06
I am always super careful to make sure that I do not use any of my cards at ATMs that tend to be in sketchy areas as well as only using ones that are at established bank locations.
Morgan | 09.04.15 @ 15:11
I don't very often use an ATM, I either go directly into the bank or use my card.
Irene | 09.04.15 @ 15:13
I have actually never used an ATM in my life, I have a passbook savings account so if I need to get money I have to go inside the bank to withdraw, I never take cash out of my credit card because the rates are too high.
Rychana Vingia | 09.04.15 @ 15:24
I watched a documentary on this not too long ago. It is crazy to see how easy it was to skim from an ATM
Casey | 09.04.15 @ 15:35
I tend to only use the ATM at my bank
Selena Walls | 09.04.15 @ 15:48
Lots of good information here, that I did not know about, or even consider.
trish | 09.04.15 @ 15:54
I avoid the atm at all costs! I will go into bank to make a withdrawal whenever possible!
Nancy | 09.04.15 @ 16:04
I thought I was doing well by checking the atm before I inserted the card. But the crooks are way ahead of me. Thanks for the heads up on this.
Sarah | 09.04.15 @ 16:18
I don't have an ATM card but these are very good tips.
Jackie | 09.04.15 @ 16:28
I never use ATMs in out of the way places. We just received new cards from our bank and they have the chip in them.
Zanna | 09.04.15 @ 16:30
I'm curious how these readers react to the newer micro-chipped cards. Can they still read those?
$commenter.renderDisplayableName() | 12.07.16 @ 08:52
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