However, no blessing comes without issues, and our comfort with ATMs often means that we forget about how vulnerable they make us. While many of us are waking up to the importance of online safety and protecting our data from large security breaches, the truth is that a lot of identity theft doesn’t involve hacking. Instead, many thieves choose to target individuals using ATMs.
Whether you drive up to an ATM, walk to it on the street or use one inside a retail store, it is important to take steps to make sure you are not leaving yourself vulnerable to identity theft. Here are a few tips:
- Be aware of skimming: This is one of the most common ways that thieves collect data from ATMs. In skimming a device is attached to an ATM that allows criminals to steal financial data, such as credit card numbers and PINs. Detective Tom Polhemus of Fairfax County Police in Virginia said that the devices are built by criminals to be small and subtle. He added, “The battery life of these devices is about two to four hours,” he said. “When a few cards have been skimmed, the criminals remove them and move on to the next machine. They are usually only attached with glue or tape.” Polhemus suggests looking for a card receiver that seems out of place, bulky or poorly attached to the machine. Scratches, tape and glue are also a good indication that all is not right with the machine.
- Check for cameras: With technology to create smaller cameras developing everyday, it’s easier for thieves to hide pinhole cameras on or near an ATM. They will be smaller than the more obvious security camera attached to an ATM and many will be temporarily attached. While you won’t always be able to detect a criminal’s camera, it’s good to check the sides and top of an ATM for a panel with a small hole that would be used to hide the camera. If there is any doubt, move on to another ATM or check with bank personnel about the machine’s safety.
- Check the keypad: If the skimming and cameras weren’t enough thieves also use fake keypads, placed over the ATM’s actual keypad. These are often incredibly difficult to detect, but the same tips suggested previously do apply: if the keypad is oddly bulky, and badly attached, move on to another machine.
It can be difficult to know when an ATM has been compromised. Using machines located in banks is a safer bet than street ATMs. Also, always use your hand to shield your PIN as you type it in. Request receipts at the ATM and keep them until you can cross-check them against your monthly bank statement.
Finally, regardless of the other protections you take, it’s a good idea to sign up for a credit monitoring service, which can notify you when certain activity occurs on your credit file that might suggest identity theft.