Beware of Stand-Alone ATMs

You walk into a convenience store to purchase a bottle of water and realize the store has a $5 minimum for credit or debit card purchases.  So, you make your way to the ATM in the back corner of the store, withdraw some cash and pay the machine’s $3 transaction fee.  You check your statement the next day and see numerous charges you never made.  You realize your PIN and card number have been stolen.

This, unfortunately, is a pretty easy scam to pull off.  The thief might have installed a skimming device on the ATM that records PINs and card numbers.  These devices are small and easy to hide.  Examples can be found here.  Stand-alone ATMs not belonging to a bank tend to have fewer security features, making them easier to hack.

The ATM business is easy to get into and the machines are easy to purchase.  They can easily be reprogrammed to store information to be retrieved by a thief.  If you use a stand-alone ATM, keep the following in mind:

  1. Beware of machines that aren’t bolted to a wall or building.  These machines are easy to steal.
  2. Avoid machines that are hidden in the back of a store.  Thieves can more easily install skimmers on these machines without being noticed.
  3. Before using an ATM, try and wiggle the device where you insert your card.  If it moves, it’s likely to have been tampered with.  Don’t use it.
  4. If you get an error message, call your bank immediately.  Some machines are programmed by thieves to store information and NOT dispense cash.

While bank ATMs are not immune from tampering, they have more security features.  You’re less likely to get scammed using your bank’s ATM as opposed to a stand-alone machine.

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