How to Spot ATM Card Skimmers

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Here's a scenario: you need cash and you're in a big hurry.  So, you rush to an ATM, quickly swipe your card, rapid-fire enter your PIN, grab your cash and dash off to your appointment.  But, there's a problem.  During that brief 30 seconds when you conducted your ATM transaction, your card was copied and your PIN recorded.  Thieves can now get into your account and steal your money. How could this happen?  Welcome to skimming, a new type of scam you may not be familiar with, but is happening more frequently.

In many countries, as well as some regions of the United States, scam artists and common thieves are attaching various data-reading devices and mini cameras to ATMs to steal debit/credit card data from unsuspecting ATM users.  The thieves can then create fake cards and withdraw cash fraudulently from victims' accounts.

So, how do ATM skimmers work?  The video clip below from the UK show The Real Hustle shows you everything--what skimmers look like, how they are made and deployed, etc.  I suspect you will be as shocked as I was when I first viewed this clip.


Here's another video clip showing more ATM skimming examples, as well as other tactics that scam artists use to catch people off guard when using an ATM.



Thankfully, the greater St. Louis area has not seen ATM skimming activity like other U.S. cities.  But, that doesn't mean this type of fraud couldn't happen here (or to you).  Before you use any ATM, it's a good idea to slow down a bit and conduct a quick visual inspection of the machine before using it.  I recommend exercising extra caution before using any ATM you have never previously used.

Things to watch for:
* Slots on ATM fascia don't align properly
* Loose-fitted equipment (particularly on card reading area)
* Multiple mirrors on ATM (potentially hiding a camera to record your PIN)
* You experience difficulty inserting or removing your card
* Strange ATM messages appear on screen

These ATM skimming devices can be very difficult to spot. However, I have found some great photos from The Consumerist and Networkworld to help show you what to look for.

Skimmer ATM: The data reading device is located on the right side. A hidden camera (to record you as you enter your PIN) resides in the rectangular attachment at the top of the screen. See the red arrows.Skimmer ATM: The data reading device is located on the right side. A hidden camera (to record you as you enter your PIN) resides in the rectangular attachment at the top of the screen. See the red arrows.


















Fake brochure rack hides camera to record your PIN as you enter it: This brochure holder looks real, but it houses a hidden camera left by thievesFake brochure rack hides camera to record your PIN as you enter it: This brochure holder looks real, but it houses a hidden camera left by thieves

















Card skimmer: The entire area circled was attached with tape to the ATM. The reader is attached to where you insert the card.Card skimmer: The entire area circled was attached with tape to the ATM. The reader is attached to where you insert the card.






























Unsuspecting gray box holds surprise: Inside that gray rectangular box holds a thief's camera that aims down and records people entering their PIN. The arrow points to the pinhole through which the camera can shoot.Unsuspecting gray box holds surprise: Inside that gray rectangular box holds a thief's camera that aims down and records people entering their PIN. The arrow points to the pinhole through which the camera can shoot.






















Gray rectangular box removed: Here you see the rectangular box removed and placed upside down so you can see the camera and battery inside it.Gray rectangular box removed: Here you see the rectangular box removed and placed upside down so you can see the camera and battery inside it.





















Fully-Skimmed ATM: Can you spot the skimming devices on this ATM? (Hint: there are two of them.)Fully-Skimmed ATM: Can you spot the skimming devices on this ATM? (Hint: there are two of them.)