How to spot an ATM skimmer so criminals don’t steal your money


One of the most successful tools used by the modern day criminal is the ATM skimmer.

Thieves attach these gadgets to an ATM in order to steal the information from the magnetic strip on the back of your card.

The thieves can then use this data to clone your card and drain your bank account, running up huge bills, sometimes before you even realise it.

In Thailand, banks and credit card providers are gradually starting to switch to EMV cards – credit or debit cards that include a microchip – which are meant to be harder for criminals to clone.

However, these types of cards have been in use elsewhere for a number of years and there hasn’t been any kind of significant reduction in cases of ATM skimming.

The US Secret Service has previously warned that ATM skimming was one of the biggest problems facing the credit card industry and is a global problem.

ATM keypad

Criminals can use a fake keypad to capture your PIN as you type it into the ATM

In Thailand, barely a week goes by without a gang of ATM skimmers being busted with a haul of cloned cards.

The problem for customers, and the reason why ATM skimming is so successful (and lucrative) for criminals is that the skimming devices are normally very difficult to spot, as shown in the two videos below.

Both videos show why it pays to be vigilant when using an ATM.

The first video was taken by security researcher Ben Tedesco while he was visiting Vienna earlier this year. He decided to film what he believed to be a suspicious looking ATM, which as it turned out had been fitted with a skimming device.

The ATM skimming machine had been placed over the card reader and was designed to look exactly the same as the genuine thing, making it almost impossible to spot.

The device had been installed on an ATM right in the centre of Vienna, close to the metro station, hotels, restuarants in an area popular with tourists and you can only imagine how many people may have fallen victim to the scam.

Take a closer look at the video – would you have spotted the skimming device?

Another video, this time from Thailand, shows a similar device being placed on the card reader of a Kasikorn Bank ATM.

The video also appears to that the skimmer has been installed alongside a small camera placed in the top of the machine that films as you type in your PIN.

This method is also commonly used by criminals, although it is fairly easy to defeat, given that you can just cover your hand as you type in your PIN.

Sometimes, criminals also install skimming keypads which captures your PIN as you type it into the machine.

The ATM skimmers are also often placed on ATMs located in tourists hotspots. Cards are often cloned from tourists who don’t realise they have money missing from their account sometimes weeks or months later, by which time, it is very difficult to catch those responsible.

Locations such as a Pattaya and Phuket, areas which are popular with tourists but that also have a large amount of ATMs (there are almost 10,000 ATMs in Phuket alone) are prime targets for the gangs who install the ATM skimmers.

Here’s all you need to know on how to spot an ATM skimming machine and protect your cash.

What is an ATM Skimmer?

This portable device is designed to look EXACTLY like a legitimate card reader which you can expect to find on any ATM.

It is placed on top of the real card reader and works by recording the data from your card once you have inserted your card into the machine.

This data can then be used to create a clone of your card, which allows criminals to withdraw money and make purchases from your account.

ATM skimmers: How spot the warning signs

To the untrained eye, ATM skimmers are notoriously difficult to spot, but there are a few tell tale signs:

  1. A bulky card slot or one that does not appear flush against the machine suggests a skimmer may be in place.
  2. Another possible sign is gf the card slot is loose or if there is a noticeable gap around the edge of the card reader.
  3. If the keypad feels ‘spongy’ or unusually soft when your try and enter your PIN.
  4. If any part of the machine looks like it has been tampered with or anything is out of place, you’d be best to use another ATM.

How can you avoid being scammed?

If you’re ever in any doubt, try tapping or tugging on the card reader, keypad or look out for anything on the ATM that looks unusual.

Skimming devices may often be a little loose if they have not been properly attached to the machine. A simple wiggle of your card in the card reader could mean that foil a scamming attempt.

Getting into the habit of covering the keypad with your hand can also help to prevent a hidden camera from recording your PIN and you becoming a victim of a crime.

If you still have doubts, move on to another ATM as it is not worth taking the risk.

What to do if you spot an ATM skimming machine or have been scammed?

If the machine swallows your card you should call your bank immediately.

Depending on what your bank says, you should probably insist that your card is cancelled right away.

If you find what you think is an ATM skimmer, you should also contact the police.

If you believe your card has been cloned and money stolen from your account, you should report any suspicious activity to your bank and the police.

Don’t forget that banks are responsible for any losses due to ATM or credit card skimming but you need to inform them first.

Photo credit: catatronic via / CC BY-SA


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