With the advent of modern technology, the way society handles and performs monetary transactions has changed tremendously. Trust and reliance of society upon ATMs has increased exponentially over the last two decades. Since their first appearance, the popularity of ATM machines has steadily been on the rise and today there are millions of ATMs across the globe.

An ATM is an electronic banking outlet that allows consumers to complete various banking transactions without the aid of a branch representative or teller. ATMs are typically placed inside the bank or outside in busy areas. In order to access an account and execute a transaction, a consumer is required to insert a valid credit card or debit card and enter a personal identification number (PIN).

 ATMs are convenient as they allow consumers to perform round-the-clock quick and self-service transactions. Standing in long queues for a cash deposit or withdrawal is no longer required. But despite being able to provide various services, it seems that cash-dispensing is still the service most widely used.

ATMs have inarguably eased the life of consumers but wherever there is cash, there is the potential for crime and ATMs are not an exception. Some old-fashioned criminals still manage to steal money from ATMs by cracking them right open or blowing them up, but other tech-savvy criminals, use more sophisticated and subtle methods to commit ATM fraud. One such type of ATM fraud is called ATM skimming.

ATM skimming is usually done by using a tandem of components, a skimmer device that is placed on the actual card reader to scan and store all the information on the magnetic strip and a keypad overlay or a tiny spy camera that is used to record the PIN. Skimming devices can also be plotted at point of sales (POS) terminals in shops and restaurants.

Some skimmers are small enough to be concealed in one’s hand so that, if someone with ill intent is handed a payment card, they can quickly swipe it with their skimmer after swiping it at a POS terminal. Using the card numbers and PINs they record, criminals will clone cards to withdraw money from consumers’ accounts or to purchase items online.

Cards are cloned without the consumers’ knowledge and often, the consumer becomes aware of an unauthorised transaction when he or she receives an account statement from the bank or a message to confirm a transaction.

Does this mean that consumers should not use ATMs? Definitely not. However, ATM users can do their part to ensure that they do not become skimming victims.

Here is what you can do to safeguard yourself against ATM skimming:

Never share your card or PIN with anyone else;

Pick an ATM that you are familiar with, preferably one that is placed in a well-lit area and with CCTV-camera coverage;

Examine the ATM carefully before using it. Look for devices that may be sticking out, false fronts, skimming devices and tiny cameras. An unusual appearance of the ATM should be reported to bank and police officials immediately;

Use your hand as a shield while entering your PIN;

Don’t enter your PIN if someone is shoulder-surfing from behind you while using the ATM;

Do not get distracted while using the ATM;

Do not accept any assistance from third parties while using the ATM unless it is a bank official; 

After withdrawing the money, put away your card, cash and receipt quickly and discreetly;

If the ATM does not hand out your card, stay beside the machine and call your bank;

Regularly review your bank statement and if you spot any unusual or unauthorised transactions, inform your bank immediately;

Inform your bank immediately if you receive a message from the bank alerting you of a particular transaction which you did not authorise;

Be wary of potential ‘phishing messages’ via text or e-mail that claim to be from your bank. The bank will never ask for sensitive information such as your card number or PIN;

Advise your bank in case of telephone and address change;

Advise the bank of any travel plans you may have;

Inform your bank immediately if your card was lost or stolen;

Do not allow any cashier or service provider, to swipe your card out of sight;

An educated and vigilant consumer is one of the best crime- prevention techniques.  

Any views, assumptions or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

Josef Galea, transaction monitoring analyst, Bank of Valletta

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