When I travel abroad, I always get cash by visiting a local ATM. Yes, you might pay a fee of a couple of dollars (though in some cases banks even reimburse clients for those fees), but at least you’re getting the fair exchange rate. I far prefer this to bringing a bunch of cash from the US, since you’ll typically get a bad exchange rate when converting it, not to mention there’s the added risk of traveling with extra cash.
I still do everything I can to pay by credit card and minimize how much cash I have, since I’d always rather earn points. 😉 Fortunately credit card acceptance is becoming more widespread globally.
All that being said, I know there are risks to using ATMs as well, as some thieves manage to steal ATM card details. One thing I never understood is how the process works. At least up until now.
Here’s how thieves steal ATM card details
A friend forwarded me a link to a story on trustfoundry.net about ATM skimmers. These are basically devices which record your card information by installing an external device on the ATM machine. In order for someone to take advantage of your ATM card in a useful way, they need both the card number, as well as the PIN.
According to the article, this is often done using two devices:
- A skimmer in the card slot, which records your card information
- But they also need your PIN, so there’s typically either a hidden camera (which records you typing the code) or a PIN pad overlay (basically a pad which is placed on top of the normal PIN pad, so that both pads can record your PIN)
For example, here are a couple of short video which show card skimmers being installed:
Here’s what you can do to protect yourself
Here are the suggestions to be sure you don’t fall for ATM fraud:
- Give the card reader, the keypad, and the privacy shield which covers the keypad a good yank — skimmers typically snap into place or are attached with adhesive, so you should be able to easily tell if something isn’t right
- Make sure the card goes in smooth — if you enter the card into the slot and it doesn’t go in smooth, something isn’t right, and an external device may be installed
- Cover your PIN with your hand — this is in case there are any cameras installed, though it’s not a sure bet, since there could be a PIN pad overlay, or the camera could be installed just inches from the keypad
The entire original story is worth a read, as the author deals with an ATM in Bali where the PIN cover snaps right off. As it turned out, it had a camera installed, so that they could watch you enter your PIN closely, in addition to the card skimmer. He then reverse engineered the skimmer. While I’m not a tech guy, I still found it interesting.
I’m generally not a paranoid traveler. For example, I’ve long known that ATM fraud is a thing, but never bothered looking into how it works, especially given the protection banks provide. I’ve often found myself at ATMs which seem shady and where I ask myself whether something is a bit off. Now I at least know the way to spot the most common type of ATM fraud.
I’ll be trying the above tricks from hereon out, more out of curiosity than anything else. I’ll be covering my PIN as I enter it, and will also give a good pull on the card reader slot, the keypad, and the keypad cover.
Have you ever faced ATM fraud?