The Ripoff Alert is a new series appearing once each week on Fridays. It alerts you to the latest scams and ripoffs trying to get between you and your money, and gives you information you need to stay safe. This is #14 in the series.
After lying low for a couple years, ATM skimming is back.
We all use our debit cards to withdraw cash from ATMs. We’ve been doing it since we had our first checking account as a teenager. You insert your card, punch in your pin and out comes some cash, right?
In this scam, criminals are using technology to their advantage. If you don’t know what to look for your bank account could be emptied in a matter of minutes.
ATM skimming involves three steps. First, criminals insert a small device into the card scanner, which they use to capture the information on your card including your name, card number and expiration date. Some of these devices are as thin as a razor blade and inconspicuous enough that it’s easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.
Next, they install a tiny digital camera nearby that captures your pin as you enter it on the keypad.
Immediately after the skimming device captures your data, the criminals can access it remotely without having to go back to the ATM. They then duplicate your card’s information onto another card and, armed with your pin, begin emptying your account.
Gas stations and grocery stores have also been hit particularly hard in this scam. At gas stations for example, thieves install the devices at off-peak times, such as late at night, when nobody’s around.
Protect your dough
There are two things you need to do every time you scan your debit card at an ATM or at a merchant. First, check for any signs the machine has been tampered with. You need to feel the card scanner to see if it’s secure and solid. If it’s wobbly, find a new ATM. Look at the machine and surrounding area for cameras. If any seem to be hidden nearby, it’s probably the work of a criminal. Banks tend to put their cameras in plain view.
The other thing you should do is always cover the keypad as you enter your pin. Doing these two steps every time you use a debit card will greatly reduce the risk of your account being looted.
While it’s a hassle to have your money stolen, under the law you’re not on the hook. But the process to get it back from your bank could take a week or more, and you could have checks bouncing in the meantime.