Scam Series: Skimming and ATM Card Cleaning
Posted on Feb 13, 2007 by
When I think of skimming, I think of waiters and credit cards. As the story goes, once the waiter is out of your sight, he runs the credit card through a reader that read your credit card account number. The waiter can either sell your credit card account number to a 3rd party or use the information himself to make purchases in your name. This kind of skimming refers to credit card fraud and, while you want to avoid becoming a victim, your exposure is minimal once you notice the fraudulent charges. You are only liable for the first $50 if you report it (although Visa, Mastercard and Discover have zero-liability policies).
But there’s a more dangerous type of skimming that has to do with your bank accounts and the ATM card you use to withdraw from that account. Identity thieves want hard, cold cash and they can do this by rigging an ATM machine.
According to CNN Money:
Here's one way the crime works: A tiny camera is inserted in or near an ATM's keypad and works in conjunction with a peripheral device attached to the ATM – perhaps a reader through which you're asked to swipe your card. The devices capture information about your account and the criminals then create fake cards in your name that can be used at any ATM to siphon money from your account.
The urban legend website, Snopes shows pictures of an ordinary ATM machine and ones that have been tampered with.
My favorite example is a sign that appeared on one ATM machine that read “clean your ATM card here for free”. All the customer had to do was to swipe it through the cleaner – which was really just a reader that skimmed the account information. With the attached camera, the criminals could see the password the victim entered into the account and now the thief has all the information he needs to drain the victim’s bank account.
ATM skimming usually happens at outside ATMs where the criminals can get access to it, so be cautious. The scary part is that the actual ATM machines are usually legitimate, it’s just that they’ve been tampered with. Don’t let your guard down even when you’re withdrawing from an ATM you have encountered many times before.
There have also been cases of it at small stores where unbeknownst to the store-owner, it was actually a fake ATM. The machine would give small amounts of cash when requested so no-one suspected it was fake, but in return it would take the victim’s account number and pin.
The CNN Money article continues with some good advice.
To prevent your card from being skimmed, avoid ATMs with any obvious oddities – such as a device over the card reader or a note telling you to swipe your card through a reader other than the one in the machine. And, as always, be sure to cover up the keypad while punching in your PIN.