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Identity Theft: ATM Skimming

September 9, 2014

Have you ever been at an ATM and someone came a little too close while you were making a withdrawal? Did your instincts warn you that the person was potentially trying to steal from you? While that may be how some try to skim from an ATM, there are many thieves with much more advanced methods.



ATM skimming occurs when criminals attach a device to the ATM in order to steal card numbers, information stored on the card’s magnetic strip, and personal identification numbers.1 The FBI reports that ATM skimming costs U.S. banks hundreds of millions of dollars each year.2 This type of theft can come in several different, practically undetectable forms.

Some devices go directly on the card scanner and copy your card information, including sensitive data that the magnetic strips contain. Criminals can use this information to access personal information about the cardholder, make online purchases and even create a counterfeit card connected to your bank account.2


There can also be a pinhole camera mounted somewhere on or near the machine that is used to record data input. These can be located in brochure holders or lights near the ATM, or even directly on the machine. Pinhole cameras are adequately named because the lens is the size of a pinhole making it almost impossible to detect. These are often used in conjunction with the card scanners.


Another way thieves can access your PIN and other sensitive information is by tampering with the ATM keyboard. Devices may be placed over the keyboard to record the information as you type. A false keypad carefully placed over the original keypad can be programmed to record every keystroke made and then match the PIN recorded to the card information that was scanned.2

There are several things you can do to protect yourself from this type of theft:

  • First and foremost, as with anything, go with your gut. If something feels off, or if the experience is different than other experiences you’ve had with an ATM, follow your instinct. It’s not worth the risk.
  • Always go to ATMs that are in well-lit, popular places.1
  • Block or cover the ATM keypad while using it to protect any sensitive information from being seen.2
  • If there is any part of the ATM that is loose, looks broken, or appears to be potentially tampered with, do not use it.
  • An ATM that has unfamiliar instructions or signs, such as typing your PIN twice, is very likely tampered with.1
  • It is best to use ATMs that are attached to a legitimate bank rather than freestanding.1

NOTE: This can also be done on gas pump card readers. The same rules apply.



The bottom line: be smart, go with your instincts, and observe your surroundings before using an ATM. Check out the other two parts of this series if you have questions about Email Scams and Telephone Phishing. Our goal is to provide you with valuable information to help you Leave Uncertainty Behind.



Works Cited


1. Waters, Jennifer. “ATM Skimming: How to Spot, Avoid.” The Wall Street Journal 13 Oct 2010: C17. Print.

2. “Taking a Trip to the ATM? Beware of ‘Skimmers’.” The Federal Bureau of Investigation, 14 July 2011.   Web. 20 July 2014.