How to avoid ATM skimmers

Beware of ATM Skimmers

It’s been said many times, but bears repeating: If you notice anything out of the ordinary at an ATM, don’t use it. That might seem like a hassle, but it’s a lot better than your card being skimmed.

ATM skimmers are electronic devices on ATM and surrounding areas so your identity can be stolen, whether it’s a personal identification number (PIN), your card number or the data on your card’s magnetic strip.

How do they do it?

•  Devices placed over the ATM card slot. These can be surprisingly well made and authentic-looking. It’s easy to imagine swiping your card in a slot that looks like the real thing; that’s why it works so well. One swipe, there goes your information.

•  Readers placed over door slots. This is popular for walk-in ATMs that require card access. Skimmers take the device off the door, install a skimmer, reassemble it and then put it back on the door. After all, it’s the same reader you always use. Why wouldn’t you swipe it to get in.

•  Cameras installed over your shoulder. Take a look around. Is there a security mirror? Or a framed picture? Give each a closer look if there are. Tiny cameras can be installed just about anywhere – even a plant – and record your PIN as you type it in.

•  A false keypad installed over the real one. These can look very authentic as well, but they are just as dangerous and will record your PIN as you enter it. Those worn-out keys on your favorite ATM look a lot better now, don’t they?

Plus, if a skimmer does get the information off the magnetic strip on the back of your card, it’s not just access to the ATM they get. They have all they need to make an exact reproduction of your card, which could be even worse. And watch out for gas pump card readers as well.

ATM skimming is paying off in a big way, too. According to, the national figure is approaching $1 billion annually.

There are still plenty of ways you can minimize your risk.

•  Take in your surroundings. If the slot reader is off-kilter at touch, something looks out of place, the mirror looks tampered with or you see other similar oddities, reconsider using that ATM.

•  If something doesn’t feel right, walk away. Better safe than sorry – some victims reported a nagging feeling they couldn’t explain at the ATM. Trust your judgment.

•  Keep away from shady locations. If the ATM is not in plain sight or brightly lit after dark, don’t use it.

•  Be secretive with your PIN. Cover the keypad with your other hand or lean in to obstruct the view when entering your PIN. This way no camera can record your actions.

•  Beware of temporary signs or instructions. These are easy to fake. It might be an out-of-order sign on one ATM instructing you to use the other one that is compromised. Or it could be “helpful” signs, showing you how to use the ATM. The range of possibilities is entirely up to the scammers’ imagination, so use your best judgment – you don’t want to play into the skimmer’s hands.

•  Use your favorite ATMs. If you’re familiar with the location and the machine, you’ll notice little details that you otherwise might miss at other locations.

Help in the fight against skimming. If you see any suspicious activity, or suspect ATM skimming, please contact the bank or the owner of the ATM.