Most of us have heard about ATM skimmers. They are card readers attached to an ATM that can steal the data off your debit or ATM card's magnetic stripe. The data can then be used to create a clone your card. Typically, skimmers can be easy to detect if you know what to look for. However, a new breed of ATM skimmers known as deep insert skimmers can be much more difficult to spot. These are wafer-thin devices hidden inside the card acceptance slot of the ATM. They are virtually impossible to detect when on an ATM.
Using an ATM (or for that matter, a credit card reader in a retail store) always poses some degree of risk. However, there are steps you can take to better protect yourself:
- Try to use an ATM in a well-lighted location with maximum surveillance and visibility from the surrounding area. Good visibility may make it more difficult for a criminal to install a skimmer.
- An ATM located at a bank or credit union may be a better choice than a freestanding ATM. The former are likely to have better video surveillance, which may help deter installation of a skimmer. An even better choice is an ATM located inside a bank or credit union.
- Use your hand to shield the ATM keyboard as you enter your PIN into the ATM. This may protect your PIN from being seen by a pinhole camera. However, some crooks utilize PIN capture overlay devices that can detect your keystrokes. Shielding your PIN will not protect you from these devices.
It’s important to remember that even if your PIN is not stolen, a debit card can still be used by a thief. Debit cards can be used at most retail stores without a PIN. However, debit cards cannot be used to obtain cash at an ATM without the PIN. On the other hand, ATM cards can only be used with a PIN. So, an ATM card may be a safer choice if you are only looking to use the card to withdraw cash.
Most financial institutions issue debit cards to their customers unless the customer specifically requests an ATM card instead. How can you tell the difference? If the card has a Visa or MasterCard logo on the front, it’s a debit card. If it does not, it’s an ATM card. If you already have a debit card, you can ask your bank to replace it with an ATM card.
Consumers are not responsible for unauthorized transactions if you have your debit or ATM card in your possession (the card is not lost or stolen) as long as you report the transactions within 60 days of your statement being sent to you. That being said, you may not get your money back right away. After you tell the financial institution about a fraudulent transaction, it has 10 business days to investigate. This means you could end up waiting two weeks to get your money back. That can be very painful for anyone who lives paycheck to paycheck. During this time period, you may not have your funds available in your account to pay your mortgage, rent, loans, or other bills.
Even though the law requires an investigation, some financial institutions may give your complaint a cursory look, send you a form letter and refuse to restore your money. If this happens, be persistent, and, if necessary, speak with an attorney about your options.
One way to help protect yourself is to be sure that you keep some money in a secondary account that is not tied to an ATM or debit card (preferably at a different bank). That way, you will be able to access the funds in the secondary account in the event your card is compromised and your bank withholds access to the money in your primary account.
Interested in learning more about ATM, debit, credit, gift, or prepaid cards? Be sure to read PRC’s comprehensive guide Paper or Plastic: What Have You Got to Lose?