How to avoid card fraud and ATM skimming

This week’s security tip is a timely reminder to be vigilant when making transactions at automated teller machines.

With continued reports of compromised automated teller machines (ATMs) and members of the banking public falling victim to unauthorized transactions, a refresher course on ATM safety is vital. Most tips on how to stay out of trouble relies on being aware of your surroundings and being smart about your financial and transactional behavior.

  • Treat your credit card or your debit card as cash, or as you would any valuable item. Would you just give someone cash and let them walk away with it?
  • Make sure your card stays in sight, and never let anyone leave of your presence with the card if you can help it. Skimming—which copies your personal data via the magnetic strip of your card—occurs most at restaurants since the waiter has to walk away with your card. If you are in a retail store and they say they have to go to another counter to run the card, follow them. If you are concerned about letting go of your card at restaurants, use cash instead.
  • Monitor credit card receipts and check them carefully against your statements. If you hold a joint account, sit down with your account co-signatory to account for all charges. Some thieves take out small amounts in hopes cardholders won’t notice.

Some guidelines to remember if you use ATMs to withdraw:

  • Do not write your PIN at the back of your ATM card or on a piece of paper which you keep in your wallet. The best method is to memorize your PIN.
  • Change your PIN regularly. This helps reduce the risk of being a victim of card fraud. And be smart about selecting PINs: Do not use easily guessed combinations.
  • Use your ATM preferably during daytime, and in high-traffic areas—ATMs in plain view are rarely used for skimming because it’s more difficult to install skimming devices.
  • Look out for strange ATM installations. The card slot should be firmly attached to the actual machine. Give the card reader a little shake to see if it’s easily movable or detachable; there should be no visible wires in the machine. If you have doubts about the integrity of the machine, just don’t use your card.
  • Cover your hands when pressing the machine keypad. This prevents your PIN from being recorded by a video capture device installed in the ATM.
  • Keep the screen blocked, as much as possible. Do not use your card when the next person in line seems to be too eager to stand behind you. You can ask them to step away if you’re not comfortable with their proximity. If they do not want to, walk away.
  • Monitor your account with every transaction: Make a balance inquiry, keep the transaction receipt, and always do the math.
  • If you discover any unauthorized activity in your account, immediately make a formal report to your bank so they can investigate.

Being mindful goes a long way in protecting yourself from ATM fraud.