Tips for Staying Safe at the ATM

With holiday shopping days about to kick into full swing, many of us will be using our ATM/debit cards for those gift transactions.  Because 8 out of 10 customers prefer plastic to paper, many retailers have Automated Teller Machines (ATM) in their place of business or located nearby. But during the holiday months especially, scammers can be found wherever these transactions occur.


The Better Business Bureau provides the following tips on how to be safe when using an ATM machine, along with some tips to protect yourself from being a victim of Automated Teller Machine skimming.

  • Pay close attention to the ATM and your surroundings. Don’t select an Automated Teller Machine at the corner of a building – corners create a blind spot. Use an ATM located near the center of a building. Do your automated banking in a public, well-lighted location that is free of shrubbery and decorative partitions or dividers.
  • Maintain awareness of your surroundings throughout the entire transaction. When leaving an ATM make sure you are not being followed. If you are, drive immediately to a police or fire station, or to a crowded, well-lighted location or business.
  • Do not allow people to look over your shoulder as you enter your PIN.
  • Do not wear expensive jewelry or take other valuables to the ATM. This is an added incentive to an assailant.
  • Never count cash at the machine or in public. Wait until you are in your car or another secure place.
  • When using a drive-up Automated Teller Machine, keep your engine running and your doors locked.
  • Closely monitor your bank statements, and immediately report any problems to your bank.
  • If you are involved in a confrontation with an assailant who demands your money, COMPLY.

 How to Avoid being Skimmed

Another risk that holiday shoppers can run into is falling victim to “Skimmers”. Skimmers are devices planted on Automated Teller Machines that are often unnoticed by users. Often made from plastic or plaster, they blend right into the ATM. The device is often a realistic-looking card reader placed over the actual installed card reader.

Customers insert their ATM card into the phony reader, and their account info is swiped and stored on a small attached laptop or cell phone waiting nearby.

Skimming typically involves the use of a hidden camera to record customers’ entry of their PINs into the ATM’s keypad. In some cases, criminals attach a phony keypad on top of the real keypad which records every keystroke as customers punch in their PINs.

Before you use your ATM card:

  • Inspect the Automated Teller Machine, gas pump, or credit card reader before using it…be suspicious if you see anything loose, crooked, or damaged,
  • When entering your PIN, block the keypad with your other hand to prevent possible hidden cameras from recording your number.
  • If possible, use an ATM at an inside location (less access for criminals to install skimmers).
  • Be careful of Automated Teller Machines in tourist areas…they are a popular target of skimmers.
  •  If your card isn’t returned after the transaction or after hitting “cancel,” immediately contact the financial institution that issued the card.