Don't let an ATM scam ruin your summer vacation

Don't let an ATM scam ruin your summer vacation
Don't let an ATM scam ruin your summer vacation

One of the best things about debit cards, in our opinion, is that carrying one frees you from having to carry around a lot of cash when you're traveling and the associated risk of having it stolen. Instead, you can find a branch of your bank or get a card that gives you free out-of-network swiping, and simply get cash as you need it. (We'd like to point out that this is also really handy if you're an impulse shopper whose money "burns a hole" in your pocket.)

But one expert warns Americans that scammers are targeting ATMs this summer to steal people's debit card numbers and PINs. Mike Urban, a security expert and senior director of fraud product management for FICO, says more than $1 billion in ATM-related card fraud took place last year, and travelers are at particular risk for this kind of crime. "I think in general, when people travel, they tend to go to tourist type locations," Urban says. "Where you've got a lot of transient people coming and going, criminals may see that as an opportunity."

What does it take to avoid being part of that whopping statistic? Urban offers WalletPop readers a few pointers for keeping their card -- and their account -- safe when using an ATM far from home.

First of all, stay away from any ATM that looks suspicious. If there are hand-lettered signs telling you to enter your PIN multiple times, or if the front of the machine looks crooked or damaged, find another place to get your cash. If it's a different branch of your regular bank but the ATM looks markedly different from all their other machines, you could be looking at a device that's been tampered with. "Walk away," in this case, Urban advises. Foreign devices or an atypical structure could be signs that the ATM is being used by thieves to collect numbers from unsuspecting cardholders. Likewise, avoid ATMs that are poorly lit or in an area where people are loitering; you don't want someone looking over your shoulder to see you enter your PIN.

It's also a good idea to keep your bank's customer service number and your account number written down in a safe place; this way, if you can't retrieve your card from the ATM, you can call your bank immediately to have the card canceled. As we here at WalletPop told you recently, it's also a good idea to monitor your account while traveling, either by phone or over the Internet. That way, if you notice any suspicious charges, you can immediately contact your bank and have it cancel your card and issue a new one.