The automatic teller machine, better known as the ATM, has become a ubiquitous part of modern commerce. Not only are ATMs located at banks but also increasing numbers of businesses, especially retailers, have ATMs installed on their property for both customer convenience and a new revenue stream.
Unfortunately, it seems that the corrupt minds of unscrupulous criminals continue to work overtime. Here is a fresh swindle that is making its way quickly across America and other countries, with incidents reported in Canada and Australia, that every person needs to be aware of.
Your greatest crime risk, until now, when using an ATM was to be a victim of an armed robbery or somebody trying to “shoulder surf” your ATM card’s PIN.
A partially sneaky, yet sophisticated scam has been documented, according to a news release from the Florida Department of Banking and Finance. It is called “ATM skimming.”
In this ingenious rip-off, lawbreakers are taking advantage of technology to make counterfeit ATM cards by using a “skimmer.” A skimmer is merely a card swipe device that reads the information on a consumer’s ATM card.
Criminals create a magnetic stripe reader that fits neatly and unobtrusively directly over the magnetic stripe reader on the ATM, and the person making a withdrawal is often none the wiser.
The thief also can capture the customer’s PIN number with a small camera mounted in the skimmer itself or at another location near the ATM.
Since the ATM works normally — the skimmer is reading your card and allowing your transaction at the same time — victims are unaware that they have just given a criminal the “keys” to their bank accounts.
These skimming rings will send their stolen ATM data to remote locations, including overseas, where factories are ready to manufacture sham debit and credit cards, according to law enforcement officials, .
ATM skimming has resulted in monetary losses estimated in the millions of dollars nationwide. However this is just the tip of the iceberg. Skimming has risen substantially, and these high-tech bandits are fast gaining in their technical finesse, including buying their own ATM machines to capture your personal banking data.
Here are some consumer tips to help reduce the opportunity that these criminals will skim your ATM card:
1. Be wary of anything about the ATM machine that looks out of the ordinary, such as odd-looking equipment or wires attached to the device.
2. Be wary of a “no tampering” sign. Crooks often place these to thwart anyone curious about a new piece of equipment.
3. Be wary of a jammed ATM machine that forces customers to use another ATM that has a skimmer attached.
4. Customers should check their bank accounts regularly to make sure there are no unusual or unauthorized transactions. Federal law limits loss from ATM fraud, and many banks offer additional protection. Consumers should check with their financial institutions for details.
5. If you see anything unusual or suspicious around an ATM, or if you find unauthorized ATM transactions on your bank account, notify local law enforcement, as well as your financial institution and/or the establishment where the ATM is located.
6. Always protect your PIN: Don't give the number to anyone, and cover the keypad while you are entering your PIN.
7. If possible, carry out your ATM transactions during the daylight hours, as most ATM-related crimes happen after dark.
To help mitigate ATM skimming, an Electronics Funds Transfer Association Task Force has been established and will seek countermeasures to the rising use of skimming devices to steal money and information from ATM machines. This task force will work closely with law enforcement, including the U.S. Secret Service.
For more information on ATM skimming, log on to www.dbf.state.fl.us.
My Final Thoughts: It is an ironic twist that for these sophisticated outlaws, even more valuable than the ATM machine itself filled with stacks and stacks of cash, is stealing an individual’s personal bank information.
So, be alert and smart: If the ATM machine you are about to use doesn’t look right, just don’t use it!
Copyright 2010 by Bruce Mandelblit
Bruce (www.CrimeZilla.com) is a nationally known security and safety journalist, as well as a recently retired, highly decorated reserve law enforcement officer. His e-mail address is CrimePrevention123@yahoo.com.
This column is provided for general information purposes only. Please check with your local law enforcement agency and legal professional for information specific to you and your jurisdiction.
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