How to avoid ATM fraud

ATMs and their users are an obvious target for criminal behavior. Thus, it is no big surprise that ATM-related cyberattacks and fraud often make headlines in the news. To successfully steal money, criminals don’t necessarily have to break into an ATM; they just have to trick the machine’s users. This article will tell you what you need to know to keep your money safe and avoid becoming a target of ATM fraud.

Types of ATM fraud

There are various ways that ATMs can be compromised. One way is via so-called network attacks, which are aimed at stealing money directly from the ATM’s safe. The hacker’s goal is to make the teller machine dispense money that was not legitimately withdrawn. Positive Technologies has conducted research on these types of attacks and has found that 85 percent of ATMs are vulnerable to hacking. On average, an attacker that gains access to a bank’s network only needs 15 minutes to carry out an attack.

The second type of ATM fraud is targeted directly at ATM users and their bank cards, not at the machines themselves. In these types of attacks, criminals aim to copy users’ card data, thereby allowing them to withdraw funds. Unfortunately, any ATM can be used for this type of attack. Thus, it is the responsibility of the ATM user to take their own independent security measures.

Here is what you can do to avoid becoming a target of ATM fraud.

Use ATMs inside of banks

One tried-and-true method for stealing card data is called “skimming”: criminals place a skimmer device on an ATM card slot which then “skims” user data when a card is inserted. A similar method involves the installation of a miniature camera on an ATM to record user PIN codes. It is easiest for criminals to install these fraudulent devices on ATMs that are located in public places—for instance, in a shopping mall. It is significantly more difficult for a criminal to install a skimmer, camera, or similar device, on an ATM within a bank’s branch office, since ATMs in branch offices are under constant surveillance. Thus, it is always better to use an ATM inside of a bank’s branch office when possible.

Check the ATM before using it

Even when in a bank, it is always worth your while to check an ATM before inserting your card. Make sure that nothing has been attached to the card reader slot. Skimmer devices tend to be attached rather insecurely, either with glue or tape. If you jiggle a card reader and feel that it is not attached completely firmly, do not use the ATM.

But even if there is no skimmer, you should still be cautious. Criminals often steal PIN codes using hidden video cameras installed at an ATM. When entering your PIN code, be sure to cover the keypad with your hand. This extra precaution will further decrease the possibility of fraud.

Be aware of your surroundings

If a bystander approaches you too closely while you are using an ATM, you should be on your guard. In this situation, it is best to cancel your transaction and find another ATM to use. 

If the door to a 24-hour ATM zone requests your PIN code for entrance, this should also raise your suspicion. Generally, doors to these ATM zones can be unlocked with the swipe of a bank card; your PIN code should not be requested for access.

If you find an abandoned card in or near an ATM, do not touch it. This is often part of a scheme: as soon as an ATM user touches an “abandoned” card, the card’s supposed “owner” steps out from behind a corner, accuses the ATM user of theft, and demands immediate monetary compensation. If this happens to you, call the police immediately.

Don’t respond to phone calls that ask you to visit an ATM

In certain cases, criminals make phone calls requesting that the receiver insert their card into an ATM which has been compromised. If you are called by someone claiming to be a bank representative and they ask you to visit an ATM to “change your password” or “implement security measures,” hang up immediately.

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