Skimming scams: How to prevent crooks from stealing your money at the ATM

Ron DickerRon Dicker RSS Feed
Jan 15th 2010 at 5:30PM

Thieves don't need sticky fingers anymore to take your hard-earned cash. They're getting your ATM to spit it out for them. And they're doing it a rate that might make hiding your loot under the mattress is the smartest move you can make.

ATM skimming, in which crooks gain access to the PIN encoded on the magnetic stripe of your debit or credit card and withdraw at will, is going to be one of the top forms of fraud this year, according to a BankInfoSecurity report published in Consumer Reports.
It was last year, too. Remember that RBS WorldPay debacle in which hackers made off with $9 million by withdrawing from ATMs worldwide at the same time? And, according to BankInfoSecurity's report, officials in Maryland, Illinois and Georgia are investigating skimming schemes that have netted at least $120,000 from consumer's accounts.

Robert Siciliano, the security consultant to and a frequent TV guest expert, offers up some tips on keeping your money yours when you withdraw it from a machine. The number one rule, he says, is don't feel safe.

"Recognize that this is a major problem that will keep getting worse before it gets better," says Siciliano.

The following should be practiced at all times when you approach an ATM. Your savings depend on it.

* Scan the machine to look for any devices on the face of it where you slide your card through. If anything looks out of place, says Siciliano, "grab it, pull on it, see if you can pull the face of the card slot off. If it's protruding, chances are it's an ATM skimmer."
* Look for small wireless cameras that are hidden. "If there's a brochure holder protruding from the face of the ATM machine, see if there's a camera in there. It could be recording your keystrokes."
* Watch out for a side view mirror that looks out of place. Mirrors are required by law so you can spot if someone is peeking over your shoulder, but an extra mirror can re-reflect your key strokes into the eyes of a thief.
* Be mindful of disguised gizmos, such as an apparent stereo speaker that actually serves as a camera or mirror for the crooks.
* Like a poker player protecting his hand, cover your PIN and type with your free hand to prevent spying. "Ninety-five percent of the time you're going to be in good shape," says Siciliano.

He also recommends checking your statements online at least once every few weeks (more often is better) to ensure that you're not stuck with the debt. Many credit card companies put you on the hook if fraud is not reported after 60 days. Some banks charge you debit card withdrawals after just a week of being undisputed, he said.

Withdrawing from ATMs at convenience stores and other unregulated places also poses more risk, he said, because the owners and others have access to pin codes and can sell them or take out the cash themselves.

But one convenience store owner took issue with the warning. Mike Odal, the owner of Prospect Park Deli in Brooklyn, said he has not had a problem in 15 years with the ATM in his store.

"Nobody has talked to me and said a transaction was missing," he told WalletPop. Odal said he watches out for suspicious customers and throws out all the PIN information stored in the machine. He said he never lets the bank or the ATM company see the electronic (and printable journal) information either. ... webmaildl8