8 Tips to Avoid ATM Identity Theft

ATM's are conveniently located, easy to use and provide us with an easy way to get some quick cash with just a swipe of a card and a few keystrokes.  This makes them a staple of everyday life here in the U.S. and unfortunately, a great target for thieves.  Since their early days, ATM's have been targeted by criminals in many different ways.  However, recent advances in technology have transformed ATM theft into a state of the art operation.

No longer does someone need to stand near you or look over your shoulder to secretly read your personal identification number or account information.  This can now be accomplished by the use of miniature cameras and electronic reading (a.k.a. skimming) devices.  These particular cameras are usually fitted into a false top on an ATM located directly above the keypad.  Skimmers can be positioned as a fake card slot that fits over the real slot on the ATM or as a false insert over the magnetic reader on the door to the lobby or entrance point of the ATM.

When an ATM user swipes his/her card to enter the lobby or inserts the card at the ATM, the false reader takes the bank account number and stores it on an electronic device or feeds it via wireless transmission to a storage facility on a computer or other external device.  The user’s pin is then read by the small hidden camera and is used in conjunction with the bank account number (and other bank information that may now be accessed)  to immediately withdraw funds, create new debit cards or open new credit accounts.

You can protect yourself against fraud and potential identity theft by being cautious whenever using your credit/debit card at any ATM and by following a few simple tips:

1. Try to avoid using private ATM's located at restaurants, bars or other small establishments, as these are usually privately owned and don’t have the same security features as those found in banks or other larger enterprises.

2. Avoid free standing or unsecured ATM's that are outdoors as these are very easy to rig with skimming devices and/or cameras.

3. Check the magnetic strip that is used on the access door to the ATM machine to be sure that it has not been tampered with in any way.  Thieves can insert false strips that can read the card’s information when it is slid through to gain entry.

4. Look around for hidden cameras that may be spying on ATM users in order to get access codes and other information during the login procedure.

5. Take a good look at the ATM machine itself prior to inserting your card to make sure that the slot for the card and/or the keypad have not been tampered with or altered in any way.

6. Try to always cover your hand when you use the keypad to enter your PIN.  This helps prevent any cameras from capturing your keystrokes.

7. If you have a problem where cash is not distributed from the ATM, notify your bank immediately.  It may be a legitimate problem with the machine, but you shouldn't take any chances.  Reporting the problem as soon as possible documents your action in case there is any fraud involved.

8. Monitor your bank account through your bank statements and check your credit reports regularly.

You can further protect yourself from ATM and other fraud by using a credit monitoring service like PrivacyGuard that offers numerous services including identity theft protection and identity fraud support services.