Walk away from an ATM if you notice someone is watching you or if you sense something is wrong with the machine, say regulators charged with ensuring a safe national banking system.
“Be wary when you use automated teller machines (ATMs) and other payment processing machines,” advises the Office of the Controller of the Currency, part of the U.S. Treasury. “Thieves may be using high-tech tools in scams to capture your account information to steal your money.”
The scams are known as card skimming and involve devices that collect debit and credit card information while consumers bank and shop, said the controller. Once thieves possess account and PIN numbers they can withdraw cash, make purchases and sell the information to others. The risk of card skimming is increasing as the technology gets smaller and more powerful, and the crimes are taking place at ATMs everywhere, including bank branches.
Card skimmers can be attached to an ATM or money reader and look like a genuine part of the machine. Some consist of a simple, curved plastic sheath over the card slot. The skimmer reads a card’s magnetic strip or computer chip, then transmits or stores the information. A concealed camera photographs or videotapes consumers as they enter the PIN.
To help combat this growing threat, the controller advises consumers to take steps to protect themselves from high-tech theft:
Avoid machines that seem suspicious and immediately report concerns to the company or police.
Check an ATM before using it by looking for a plastic sheath over the card slot, or for nearby objects that could conceal a camera.
Stand close to the machine and hold your hand over the keypad or screen to make it more difficult for a person or camera to collect information.
Do not accept offers from strangers to help you with an ATM that appears disabled, and notify a security official of the situation.
Regularly check account statements for unauthorized withdrawals and purchases. Immediately notify your bank or credit card provider of any discrepancies.
Consumers are protected by the Truth in Lending Act, which generally limits liability to $50 for any unauthorized use of credit cards. Consumers are not responsible if they report a lost or stolen credit card before the card is used, or if the fraud results from someone using your credit card number alone.
The Electronic Fund Transfer Act also limits liability for unauthorized use of debit or ATM cards – the amount depends on how quickly you report the loss. For more information on what to do if a card is lost or stolen contact the Federal Trade Commission.
Banks and retailers also take steps to minimize the risk of debit and credit card crime, particularly when the purchases are made by phone or online. Retailers typically ask for an address, the last four digits of a social security number, the answer to a previously created security question or the three-digit security code printed on a card. Websites may also ask users to unscramble a word or number.