What You Should Know About ATM Card Skimmers

Man at ATM

Tools like LastPass keep your payment details protected by securely storing them, allowing you to enter your credit card information during online transactions without ever having to take out your wallet.    

You can rest assured that your credit and debit card information is safely stored and encrypted in your LastPass vault. But how can you protect your physical card the way you protect your digital one? 

Unfortunately, you’re still vulnerable to financial thieves when doing a very common activity: Getting cash from an ATM. Criminals use a device called a card skimmer to grab the details from your card. Since they need to know your PIN to use the information effectively, they also install tiny cameras aimed at the ATM keypads 

When your banking details get wrongfully used by someone other than yourself, you could go through weeks of payment disputes and waiting to get replacement cards. These four targeted tips could help you stay safer against skimmers whenever you use an ATM. 

#1 Inspect the Card Reader Slot for Looseness 

One of the top reasons people are unwittingly victimized by card skimmers is that the devices often look like exact replicas of the original card slots and fit directly over the real things. 

When you use an ATM, quickly tug on the card slot to check for loose parts. If a criminal has been particularly sloppy, you may even see traces of the adhesive used to secure the skimmer. If the card slot wiggles or otherwise seems strange, bring up the problem to the ATM provider. 

#2 Shield the Keys with Your Hand 

Many of the cameras used to watch for entered PIN details fit into pin-sized holes, making them not immediately apparent. That’s why you should always let your free hand cover up the one that’s typing in the PIN.  

Taking that approach prevents the camera from showing the valuable information thieves need. It also stops people from looking over your shoulder as they wait in line to use the ATM, and it’s always wise to protect your privacy that way.  

#3 Be Careful About the ATMs You Use 

The first step of any skimming attempt involves thieves installing the skimmer and camera at an ATM. Logically, they’ll probably find it harder to accomplish that at a bank’s ATM where tellers are nearby, rather than the machines in the back corners of 24-hour convenience stores, for example. 

Being choosy about the ATMs you use is an excellent way to avoid card-skimming schemes.  

#4 Check Your Accounts Regularly 

If you don’t use your ATM or credit card often, it might take a while before you realize something’s wrong. The first suspicious sign might be that your card is declined during an attempted transaction, but you know you should have plenty of money available.  

Don’t procrastinate contacting the bank if you see unfamiliar activity representing tiny amounts. Thieves may be intentionally limiting themselves to small transactions, knowing those are less likely to get noticed or reported. Plus, the card providers should have access to details that could help you recall if the transaction is indeed one you’ve authorized.  

Get into the habit of monitoring your accounts at least weekly. That way, if you notice something amiss, you can quickly get in touch with the card provider and begin the process of proving you aren’t responsible for fraudulent ATM withdrawals or product purchases. The longer it’s been since unauthorized activity happened, the harder it may be to get the money credited back to your account. 

Many debit and credit card companies send fraud alerts via text and email, too. It’s smart to sign up for those if your institution offers them. If you do, ask how to recognize those communications as authentic. If you receive one and still feel doubtful, get in touch with the bank for verification.  

Awareness Avoids Catastrophes 

In addition to following these suggestions, stay in a state of heightened alert while using any ATM. If you notice people loitering around, or if anything about the machine itself seems unusual, walk away from it and tell an associate at the ATM’s location about the issues. 

Awareness — whether it’s related to ATMs, local skimming attempts or transactions on your account — could help you avoid problems that make your bank account temporarily unusable.