How to protect yourself from ATM skimming

Even if you're picky about the ATMs you frequent, you can still become a victim of identity thieves who install difficult-to-detect devices known as skimmers on machines to steal your information, the Better Business Bureau recently warned.

ATM skimmers are stealing an estimated $1 billion annually from unsuspecting consumers. Javelin Strategy & Research estimates that one in five consumers have become victims.

Identity thieves employ a number of different methods to tamper with ATMs in order to steal debit card numbers and personal identification numbers, or PINs. These criminals sometimes record keystrokes by using hidden cameras or fake keypads placed over the real ones. Criminals also place small electronic devices over or inside the slots of ATMs that read the magnetic strips on debit or credit cards and transmit your account information to them.

"Skimming devices are becoming increasingly harder to detect and often blend in seamlessly with the ATM," BBB spokeswoman Alison Southwick said in a statement. "If you're going to use an ATM, you could become a victim, and it's important to monitor your accounts closely so you can quickly detect any fraudulent activity on your card and minimize your losses."

The BBB recommends consumers take the following steps to protect themselves:
  • Protect your PIN – When entering your PIN, cover the keypad with your other hand to prevent any cameras from catching your digits. False keypads placed over the real keypad are also a way scammers get PIN numbers so if the keypad looks different, move on.
  • Give it a wiggle – Skimming devices are often false panels attached to the ATM -- such as where you put your card into the machine. If parts of the ATM look damaged or different, give it a wiggle. Also look for new or suspiciously placed cameras and unusual signage. Don't hesitate to walk away and use another ATM if it doesn't feel right.
  • Be picky with your ATMs – Avoid using ATMs in poorly lighted or low-trafficked areas. Experts often recommend choosing a bank ATM over standalone ATMs in public places. Not only do identity thieves attach devices to legitimate ATMs to steal numbers. They will also place their own phony ATMs in public places.
  • Keep an eye on your statements – The most vigilant person can still fall victim to ATM skimmers, and it's important to always keep a close eye on your accounts -- particularly the itemized breakdown of charges and debits -- so that you can quickly report any suspicious activity on your account.
  • Report fraud immediately – Report any fraudulent activity to your bank as soon as you discover it. Consumer protections for debit cards vary, but depend largely on when you report the fraudulent activity. If you wait too long to report the fraud, your bank account could be cleaned out and your bank might not reimburse you.
For more advice on fighting identity thieves and preventing fraud, visit the BBB website.
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