Can you spot a card skimmer?

I can’t. Not always, anyway. Take a look at all the clever ways scammers skim ATM cards and PINs.

If you’ve seen one of those semi-transluscent, green card slots with an image of a padlock on it, you know that banks are aware of the problem and are doing something to prevent it. Still, it seems like banks and other ATM owners could be doing more to let their customers know, at each ATM machine, how to avoid getting suckered by a skimmer. A picture of an unsullied model on the side of every ATM would be a big help. That way, you could compare the real-life model you’re looking at with the image, and hopefully you would notice any material discrepancies. I suppose evil-doers could simply replace the image with their own, but at least their jobs would be made more difficult for having to take that step. And it would provide ATM users with one more chance to notice a sloppy installation of an add-on to the machine.

Another option is a bit more high-tech, and would involve the ATM flashing a number on the screen that should match a number being displayed on the lip of the ATM card slot. This could be hacked, of course, but it would require gaining access to the ATM’s guts. Anything that increases the cost to would-be thieves in time and technical know-how is a good thing.

Anyhow, in the event that banks and other ATM owners do not put in a lot more effort than they currently do to stop this problem, what should you, the average ATM user, do?

Tips for avoiding ATM skimmers

I wish I could give some really solid advice here, but there are no foolproof methods. Here are the things I do to avoid card skimmers:

  1. Try to use ATMs inside banks, where it’s less likely that someone will install a skimming device.
  2. Quickly look at the parts of the ATM. If you see cheap looking components that seem like they could come off with a slight tug, beware.
  3. Cover the keypad with your non-typing hand as you punch in your PIN. Scammers need the information on the magnetic strip of your card and your password to gain access to your bank account. If you deprive them of your password, they’ve only got half of the information they need. Watch out for fake keypads placed over the real keypad, though, since this can allow scammers to get your password no matter how well you cover up when you key it in.

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