ATM skimming

ATM skimming: how to keep your card and money safe

As banks develop new ways to protect law-abiding consumers from outside threats, thieves, and other criminals come up with fresh ways to steal what doesn’t belong to them. ATM skimming serves as one insidious example of theft that often occurs without the victim’s knowledge.

Protecting yourself from ATM skimming and other forms of card-compromising activities can help you keep your money where it belongs — in your possession.

How does your credit or debit card get compromised?

Thieves have numerous ways to steal information (and cash) from debit cards and credit cards. It’s easiest occurs when your card leaves your control. If you accidentally forget your wallet on a restaurant table before you leave, for instance, or if you forget to extract your card from an ATM machine when you stop to get cash, a thief could steal the physical card and use it for personal gain.

A thief could also copy or steal the numbers on your credit or debit card, such as while ringing up your purchase in a store or sneaking a peek in your wallet. Without the physical card, a thief can’t make in-store purchases, but he or she can use it for card-not-present transactions. Online, catalog, and telephone purchases, for instance, don’t require actual plastic.

However, ATM skimming represents a far more sophisticated solution. According to, an ATM skimmer consists of a card reading machine — just like the ones stores and ATMs use to capture the information on your card’s magnetic stripe. In an ATM scam, the thief installs the scanner on top of the existing slot on the ATM. When an unsuspecting consumer slides his or her card into the machine, the scanner captures the information just as the actual ATM does.

Skimming machines can also be installed on fuel pumps and other machines that accept credit and debit card purchases. However, ATMs often become the most useful for thieves because of their high volumes of traffic.

How can you avoid ATM skimming and similar scams?

Basic credit card safety requires you to remain vigilant whenever you use your card. Don’t allow someone else to walk off with your card or use it where you can’t see the transaction. It’s easy to accidentally leave your card in a restaurant or store, so ask yourself before you leave any location whether you have your money and plastic.

In terms of ATMs, remain aware of your surroundings. Don’t let anyone watch you conduct your transaction — you don’t want a thief to see you enter your PIN or learn how much money you have in the bank.

Bankrate recommends using familiar ATMs when possible — those in your neighborhood or at your regular bank branch. You’re more likely to notice if something is amiss. For instance, if the card reader is red today, but was yellow last week, you know that someone might have installed an ATM skimmer on the device.

It’s also best to use ATMs that feature video surveillance. Thieves cannot easily install fraudulent equipment on a monitored ATM — nor would they want to try. You can ask your bank to recommend a convenient ATM or look for signs that indicate video surveillance.

Additionally, avoid using public places to conduct financial transactions. For instance, don’t use a friend’s laptop to check your bank balance. You might also avoid using your own device (such as a laptop or smartphone) to make an online payment while on public Wi-Fi. Skimming devices work in a variety of ways, and some can capture card information through Bluetooth or wireless technology.

Has your card been compromised?

You won’t always know right away that your credit or debit card has been compromised. That’s why you have to watch for warning signs and red flags that indicate you need to get in touch with your bank.

Choose a time of day to check your bank balance, such as early in the morning or right before bed. Make it a ritual so you don’t forget. The faster you realize money is missing from your account, the easier it becomes to rectify the situation.

Many banks offer customer alert systems. If you conduct a transaction from your bank account or credit card that exceeds a certain amount, you’ll get a text message or email to alert you. Your bank will probably allow you to set the threshold manually. In some cases, thieves will make multiple purchases in quick succession (to lower their chances of getting caught), so such activity will send up another red flag if you’ve turned on alerts.

How should you respond if your card is compromised?

If you believe that your credit or debit card has been compromised, report the activity to your bank or credit card provider immediately. Your financial institution can disable the card right away, which will avoid further fraudulent charges. Destroy the card and wait until you receive a replacement from your bank.

Furthermore, if you believe that an ATM or other device has been modified or tampered with, notify the authorities. Protecting yourself and your neighbors from fraudulent activity will make your community a safer place to live.

If you suspect your Payoneer card may have been compromised, please contact Customer Care with due haste.

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