What is ATM Card Skimming and How to Protect Yourself From It?

Written by , February 27, 2012

What is ATM Card Skimming and How to Protect Yourself From It?ATM cards are a convenient and popular way to access the funds in our bank and checking accounts. But using an ATM card is not without risk. Unfortunately, the practice of “ATM skimming” has become a problem in recent years.

ATM skimming is when a thief installs a card reader inside the ATM card slot. This device will read the information on your ATM card’s magnetic stripe when you insert the card into the machine, so that the thieves can “clone” your card and use it to withdraw money from your account or make purchases at retail stores. Many times an account holder will be completely unaware that their card has been skimmed, and won’t find out until their account has been compromised. Fortunately some banks have implemented account monitoring systems to alert consumers when this happens.

Here is advice and some techniques for protecting yourself from ATM card skimming.

  • Look For Anything Out of the Ordinary. If something looks different about your bank’s ATM, contact the bank immediately. You want to be sure that any new changes are because the bank has upgraded the machine, and not because a skimmer has been installed. A skimming device sometimes changes the look of the card slot or even the entire ATM faceplate.
  • Avoid Using Unfamiliar ATMs. If possible, avoid using ATMs that you are not familiar with. When you don’t know what the machine is supposed to look like it can be difficult to identify whether there is anything out of the ordinary. Try to stick to your home bank’s local ATMs.
  • Cover The PIN Keys. In order to steal the most money from your account, skimming thieves will also need your PIN. This information is not part of your card’s magnetic stripe, so they will install a very small camera (often at the top of the machine) to watch you input your pen on the keypad. You can protect yourself by shielding the keypad with your other hand when you enter your PIN.
  • Use ATMs Less Frequently. In theory, your card is at risk every time you use an ATM. If you can reduce the number of times you need to withdraw cash, you’ll provide yourself a bit more protection against skimming.
  • Check Your Bank Balances. Another way to protect yourself is to stay on top of your account balances. By frequently checking your balances (either by phone or online), you’ll be able to identify any unauthorized or suspicious activity and report it to the bank.
  • The Issue is With More Than ATMs. Be aware that practically any card reader is susceptible to skimming, particularly those that are public and unattended. Credit card skimmers are sometimes a problem at self-serve gas stations with card readers on the pump, for example.
  • Even though banks work to protect your accounts from unauthorized access, if your ATM card is skimmed you’ll still be faced with a great deal of stress and hassle in trying to get the issue straightened out. Follow the steps above to protect yourself from ATM card skimming.

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