As Debit Card Theft Hits 20-Year High, How Safe Is Your ATM?

ATM with and without card skimmer

While breach-fatigued retailers work to reduce the theft of their customers’ plastic-payment data, scammers have turned their focus to stealing card details at the ATM.

During the first four months of 2015, stealing debit card info at automated teller machines hit a 20-year high, reports credit score firm FICO, which also monitors roughly two-thirds of America’s debit cards. Compared with the same period in 2014, skimming attacks increased threefold at ATMs not located at banks and 174 percent at on-branch machines, FICO revealed to the Wall Street Journal.

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Like gas pumps, ATMs can be rigged with readily available “skimming” devices that collect data from a payment card’s magnetic stripe. PINs are recorded with overhead spy cameras to make counterfeit cards, to drain the affiliated bank account, to use for online purchases or to sell on the black market.

How can you tell if your ATM is safe?

* Newer ATMs have a flashing light at the card slot. If the light is obscured, suspect tampering.

* Wiggle the card slot — and don’t use those not securely attached. Beware of slots with a different color from the rest of the ATM.

* Look for unusual equipment around the keypad; it could hide fraudster-placed cameras. To be safe, cover your hand as you enter your PIN.

* Be wary of out-of-service signs. They could be bait to steer cardholders to nearby machines that have been rigged, or to help crooks avoid suspicion while they install skimmers.

* Before entering your card, try several keys, especially “enter,” “cancel” and “clear.” A sticky keypad could indicate a non-skimming ruse that prevents you from completing a transaction after inserting a cash card and keying in a PIN. As you leave to report the problem, a nearby con artist can use the touchscreen or other buttons on some machines to complete a cash withdrawal.

Of course, the best defense is a good offense: Monitor account activity regularly (if not daily). You’re also safer requesting that your bank issue a daily ATM withdrawal limit, rather than the more common per-transaction cap. Should your card be compromised, this helps prevent scammers from making successive withdrawals within minutes of one another.

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When buying gas and doing other transactions elsewhere, choose the “credit” option when using a debit card with a Visa or MasterCard logo. This way, you don’t have to enter your PIN debit, and while the purchase will still be deducted directly from your bank account, it’s processed through a credit card network, providing greater protection if fraud occurs. Although banks typically reimburse for ATM skimming attacks, liability varies, depending on when customers notify them about suspicious activity and lost or stolen cards.

For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network . You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and gain access to a network of experts, law enforcement and people in your community who will keep you up to date on the latest scams in your area.

Photo: Krebs on Security

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